Taiwanese director Edward Yang brings us a film that starts from "the luckiest day of the year." The current circumstances are that Nj Jian, his wife Min-Min, their two children Yang-Yang and Ting-Ting, are gathered with Min-Min's grandmother, for the wedding of A-Di, Nj's brother. A-Di is a very superstitious person, so much so that he put off the wedding, despite a pregnant bride, until what the almanac called the "luckiest day."
Things quickly turn.
The wedding is interrupted by an ex-lover of A-Di's, an ex-love of Nj's gone from his life for thirty years comes back, and the grandmother suffers a stroke. It is quickly tomorrow.
Edward Yang has seven films to his directing credit and definitely shows the skill of an old veteran. He employs no crafty camera work, no seven minute tracking shots, or special editing techniques, but just shows us the pictures in a somewhat simplistic way and succeeds more so because of it.
Yang seems to make all the right choices. The film takes place in the comatose grandmother's room often, but only once do we really get a brief, and thus more effective, look at her ailing body. This choice to focus is gracious, poignant, and determining.
If I knew more about what colors in films represent I might be able to describe another technique used by Yang and his cinematographer, Chen Bowen, better. But alas, I can not. What I did see though was a constant theme of blues and reds frequently appearing as emotive as the actors on the screen.
The actors themselves scored very well. Nien-Ju Wu as Nj and Jonathan Chang as the mischievously curious Yang-Yang highlight a great ensemble cast. While the unfamilar relies on subtitles for cues as to what is being said, what is happening is made quite clear by the realistic conveyance of emotions from each of the actors.
The most amazing thing though that this film was capable of doing was to present a family drama that feels real. Too often the actions and reactions in films such as Yi Yi seem to be fabrications, melodramatic, or completely unlikely. A drama at its best should be able to connect to the viewer in a sense that they know it to be something real. Having gone through a situation similar to the characters and trying to conjure thoughts and the proper state of mind while addressing a loved one in a coma, I know those feelings and have felt those faces myself. This is fiction at its best: a reflection of reality.
Yi Yi is a special film. It is spoken in mostly Mandarin and portrays life in a universal way. We do not know the choices we make to be right or wrong, because, as Yang-Yang describes, we can only see what is in front of us, not behind. We only "half of the truth." Edward Yang has given us a fully realized depiction of life: frail, fierce, unpredictable, and true.
Midway through the film, father and son are getting in the car out to face the day. Yang-Yang turns to his dad: " Daddy, I can't see what you see. You can't see what I see. How can I know what you see?"