A One and A Two (Yi Yi) (tbc)

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The View Review

Review byMatthew Turner06/04/2001

Five stars out of five
Running time: 172 mins

Emotionally rewarding, intelligent and affectionate drama from Taiwanese director Edward Yang – unmissable and one of the best films of the year.

Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (the title is the Chinese word for ‘one’, counted twice the way a music conductor would say it, hence the English translation of ‘A One And A Two’) finally arrives here after attracting rave reviews Stateside and picking up a number of international awards, among them the Best Director prize at Cannes 2000.

On the surface, it’s an intricate family drama that bears a resemblance to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (in terms of length and of its focus on one particular family) and, like that film, appears to owe a great debt to the films of Robert Altman, though Yang more than surpasses Altman in terms of the sheer warmth of his film and the result is, quite simply, one of the best films of the year.

The plot centres on computer executive NJ (Wu Nianzhen), and his burgeoning mid-life crisis triggered by problems at work and the reappearance of Sherry (Ke Suyun), his high-school sweetheart. At the same time, his mother-in-law has suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma, while his wife Min-Min (Elaine Jin) deals with her depression by turning to a religious cult.

Meanwhile, his teenage daughter Ting-Ting experiences her first love affair with ‘Fatty’ (Yupang Chang), the boyfriend of her best friend, and NJ’s irascible young son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) finds his own ways of dealing with both life in general and a group of bullying older girls in particular.

Although three hours may seem like an intimidating prospect, Yi Yi is that rare example of a film you really don’t want to end. In fact, in one of the film’s best scenes, one of the characters (Fatty) makes an impassioned case for movies such as this, saying that because of the wealth of experience that movies give us, they expand the world we live in and allow us to live three times as much. After seeing Yi Yi, you’ll find it hard to disagree.

There are many similarly wonderful scenes in the film. Particularly impressive is a scene in which NJ and Sherry wistfully recall the excitement of holding hands on their first date, as the film cuts and we see Fatty and Ting-Ting holding hands on their own first date, while the voice-over continues.

There are also several laugh-out-loud moments, mostly involving Yang-Yang, such as when NJ takes him to McDonalds during the opening wedding sequence, or when he suddenly makes all the bullying girls cry by bursting their balloons.

The acting is superb, throughout – Yang has assembled a terrific ensemble cast and given each and every one of them a chance to shine in their roles. However, the stand-out is unquestionably Jonathan Chang as Yang-Yang, an immensely appealing child actor who manages to convey both child-like innocence and a fierce intelligence – he is frequently seen experimenting with funnels and tubes and so on, and his observations of those around him eventually lead him to take photos of the backs of people’s heads with the aim of showing them ‘what they can’t see’.

In addition to the acting, the film is beautifully photographed by Yang Wei-han and Yang’s unobtrusive style allows the various stories to unfold at their own pace. In fact, only one moment strikes an odd note – when a news report cuts to a computer game reconstruction of a violent murder.

To sum up, then, this is quite simply unmissable and one of the best films of the year. It has an extended run at the ICA cinema, after which it will hopefully receive wider distribution. Don’t wait, though – see it now. You’ll be glad you did. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 26/09/2015 08:26

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