Movie Dictator Club: Yi Yi (2000)

yiyi

My first entry in the Cannes section of the Movie Dictator Club for the month of May, 2009!

Written By: Edward Yang
Directed By: Edward Yang

Often times I think I look too deep into movies and miss a lot that is on the surface. With Yi Yi I was initially engaging in a search for deepness. I kept asking myself what this meant, why did this character do that, why was this setting important? While those questions were eventually answered and like any other movie Yi Yi does have deeper meanings, those deeper meanings are ancillary to what is on the surface. By searching for more deepness I was missing the family life being portrayed on my screen. Maybe there is a deeper meaning behind Min-Min leaving to go to Temple, but by focusing on there being more to what she was doing I was missing what was actually taking place. A snapshot of a period in time for a family and assorted people around them was being presented to me. Discovering the deepness would come over time, but I needed to pay attention to what was happening on the surface so as to not miss the lovely story flashing before my eyes.

Family is complicated, our lives are complicated when by ourselves but when you add in your complications with the complications of the rest of your family it’s enough to drive anyone insane. What Yi Yi does that is so important is that it presents a short period of time in this families lives without adding any drama. I have had a periods such as what the Jian family goes through in Yi Yi. No, they haven’t featured murder, but they have featured events that felt like they were that big. The Jian’s are complicated, but they aren’t overly complicated, they don’t feel fake in the slightest. They cope just like real people, they make stupid decisions, they yearn for the past, they fret over the future, but most of all they live. It’s sad to say but what a lot of movies miss when it comes to drama is that big events don’t mean drama, the simple act of living means drama. Ting-Ting crying in her dream to her Grandma is a dramatic event, but it isn’t big, it is personal and quiet, it plays out like most drama plays out in real life. Life is all about living, or some such thing that some poet once uttered, and Yi Yi is all about showing us what happens when we really live as opposed to how the movies think major drama would make our lives better.

On the deeper front that I spoke of earlier, the true depth that I found in Yi Yi was its assertion that life is one big poker game. We operate on a risk/reward principle, but we are always hesitant to take the risks necessary to get the rewards and then bemoan our lives when they are bereft of said rewards. N.J. risked losing his one true love to see if there was anything better out there for him, if life held any surprises. He spends most of his life wondering if he made the right choice, if his life with Sherry would have been better than his life with Min-Min. What he comes to realize is the true essence of gambling. He made a choice and in the end finally comes to realize that his choice did pay dividends, he has his family. He didn’t make the safe bet and end up with a bad result as he always feared, he took a risk and ended up with a life that may be ordinary, but one that he knows he would choose again if given the chance.

From a technical standpoint, Edward Yang fills Yi Yi with all sorts of awesomeness. Visually it is a stunning movie, Yi Yi is full of visual flare yet at times Yang allows for his camera to go static. One second he will set up a shot through multiple planes where the eye has to be moving. Then he will follow that up with a quiet moment where the camera stays in place and doesn’t do a thing but pick up emotions from the characters. There is the brilliance of the school video being an allegory for men, women and the sexual awakening that is awaiting Yang-Yang. Yi Yi is so technically complex that I could write a thousand words on just the technical aspects alone.

I think my favorite little touches in Yi Yi were two moments, both are very different in how they are handled but both convey the story wonderfully. The first is near the beginning when N.J. takes Yang-Yang to McDonald’s because he won’t eat the wedding food and is upset. More than any other scene this drives home the essence of family, a dad bored out of his mind going out of his way to do something small that will help alleviate his child’s pain. The other moment was more a sequence of moments. The way the interactions between N.J. and Sherry in Japan are cut with Yang-Yang and Ting-Ting back in Taipei. For every story that either Sherry or N.J. tell, Yang-Yang and Ting-Ting are playing out the story back in Taipei. This hammers home the circle of life, no matter how the times or settings may change people will go down similar paths.

I was assigned Yi Yi by a lovely lass named Worm@Work as one of my dictations for the month of May. Yi Yi is a movie I have heard much about but without the dictation I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing it for years. Because of that I am very grateful I was dictated Yi Yi this month. A family portrait has never been done better, and despite all I have talked about in the previous paragraphs there is a lot more I could talk about. Both on its surface and below Yi Yi is that deep of a movie. If you have yet to see Yi Yi then do yourself a favor and check out this wonderful family drama, you’ll thank me when you do, or thank Worm@Work, see, everything is one giant circle!

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill

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