Yi Yi (2000)
The 1980's Taiwanese New Wave which rose as a protest march against the the dumping of Hong Kong cinema in Taiwan markets, narrated stories of Mondays and Tuesdays rather than fantasies. Edward Yang, the ring leader of this dissidence, with Tsai Ming Ling and Hou Hsiao-Hsien gave Taiwanese cinema its new lens to explore the real.The movies flushed out melodrama and flashy cinematography, instead presented a restrained, non-indulgent portrayal of urban life. The more popular face of the New Wave, Ang Lee would go on to win the Oscars for best director twice ( Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi).
Yi Yi directed by Edward Yang is the story of the members of a family, each of whom are separated by age,work, lifestyle, thoughts and struggles. The middle aged father NJ (Wu Nian-Chen), the adolescent daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) and the very young son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) are all going through some kind of negotiations and deliberations with their own selves and the world around them. NJ is facing bankruptcy at his company, Ting-Ting wants to be struck by love but is too shy to actively pursue her love interests, Yang-Yang is bullied everywhere, in marriages, at schools, at the playground, but is still very curious about the universe and its furniture.
Edward Yang is patient and his cinema develops in an unbounded fashion, giving each character and each scene its time and territory. We see Ting-Ting looking at a couple from a balcony, her eyes filled with longing and also a sense of loneliness, the shot stays for us to soak up the entirety of those emotions. We see Yang-Yang in deep thought on a toilet seat to device a method to make a water balloon, we see him snapping pictures of mosquitoes hopelessly. But no one interrupts this world of Yang-Yang, its a child’s universe, it need not be soiled by adults.
NJ is a father, a husband, a grandson, an owner of an almost bankrupt firm, a person who said no to his first love, a son who understood his father very late in life, a person who is moved by authenticity in others. Wu Nian-Chen plays this role with a Gandhian restrain and temperament. You can see him lost in company meetings, inspired by the conversation with the Japanese business man, patient with his son Yang-Yang, composed even when another person is screaming at him. He is a Haiku poem, all seasons are within him.
Yang crafts tender moments through out the entire film, the most endearing being the tale of first loves. In one sequence he interweaves Ting-Tings first love with her father’s(NJ) first love. We see NJ meeting his old lover in Japan after a decade and share his longing, grief and remorse for the road not taken. They travel the length of Tokyo, its metros, its temples, dim lit diners, hotels with huge glass windows, talking, arguing, crying and consoling.(Sophia Coppola would do the same for her characters three years later in Lost in Translation).Ting-Ting while in Taipei is going on her first date, she is shy and hesitant. She and her boyfriend would go to a movie and then a diner but they are mostly silent, conversing through glances and smiles.
Reaching a road crossing NJ tells his girlfriend how she used to be afraid of crossing roads and how he used to hold her hands. At the same time Ting-Ting and her boyfriend are about to cross roads in Taipei holding hands. Edward Yang moves back and forth between NJ and Ting-Ting, between Tokyo and Taipei, between the father and the daughter,with NJ saying to his girlfriend
“ Now I am holding your hand again
Only its a different place , a different time , a different age
But the same sweaty palm”
The essence of first love, the kind of love we naively fall into . The love where we always held hands and felt the rough edges of each others finger tips. The love which had to end and which did end at the hearth of our ambitions, our obligations, our careers and our down right selfishness. The love which we return to, through cinema, through music, through writing, as we are now trapped in more calculated, calibrated and deliberate loves.
Yi Yi is about a garden of forking paths and the one path we have taken, creating a compliment of infinite paths we could have had. Our lives being spent in constant comparison with the one and an infinity of others.