Now this is an Edward Yang film worth watching, even despite its running time. Yang’s other list film, A Brighter Summer Day, I remember almost nothing of, probably because it was so unremarkable, and the four-hour running time made you feel every second of it, so my brain probably shut itself down during most of it as a self-defense mechanism. I’m sure part of it was the fact that it was technically a period piece, taking place in the first half of the century. Yi Yi, subtitled A One and a Two, is squarely set in the modern age, and that was only one of the things that Yang ended up doing right in this film that made me not only able to get through it, but to come out the other end spellbound at the experience I’d just had.
The film follows the life of the Jian family, specifically through three of its members in three narrative threads. The first is the father, NJ, who struggles with his job and how he feels he isn’t suited for it, all while an old crush from school suddenly reappears in his life. The second is the teenage daughter, Ting-Ting, who finds herself in-between one of her friends and their boyfriend while they quarrel, passing messages between them, until finally a love triangle blossoms. The third is the young boy, Yang-Yang, who has his own problems at school, and finds a way to channel his own interests into a new hobby. Each of the three main storylines is a different beast, as they should be; the father’s story seemed mired in business experience, and thus was, for me, the most obfuscated, while the stories following the daughter and young son were much more accessible. I personally enjoyed Yang-Yang’s odyssey with his camera the most, trying to, in his words, capture the half of life that people don’t see. It was poignant, and even more so that it was this young kid, only eight years old, who was doing it. The others were well enough in their own right, but where Yi Yi really succeeds isn’t in the individual parts or assets, as well done as virtually all of them are. Yi Yi is a fantastic example of a film that, everything blended together, ends up somehow more than the sum of its parts. I’ve seen other reviewers basically speechless as to how to describe the allure of this film, and others who are nearly so, able only to articulate that this film is basically life itself. That’s about where I ended up, and even despite the nearly three-hour running time, I found myself loving this more and more as it went on.
Now, one might very easily run into the argument that there really isn’t much to this one; that after watching it, you basically don’t have anything to show for it on the other end. Honestly, they’d be right; there isn’t much of a payoff to this film. What this is is a portrait of a family in a particular place and time, just like any other portrait you would hang on your wall, only this one is made with moving images rather than just one still frame. It’s films like Yi Yi that really emphasize the medium of motion pictures, and what they can be used for. I can’t attest to Yang’s other film making the list, but this is one I will happily champion.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10