“Why are we afraid of the first time? Every day in life is a first time. Every morning is new. We never live the same day twice. We’re never afraid of getting up every morning. Why?”
When you think about your favorite Asian director, who comes to mind? Some of you might say Wong Kar Wai, Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Park Chan-Wook, Bong Joon Ho, Hayao Miyazaki, and the list goes on. But if you ask me who my favorite Asian director is, it’s Edward Yang. With a career spanning just over 20 years, Yang has graced us with thought-provoking films full of richness in life. And if I had to choose my favorite film of his, it would have to be Yi Yi.
Yi Yi centers around a family with a narrative that shifts between the father NJ, his teenage daughter Ting-Ting, and his young son Yang-Yang. If I were to tell you the theme of the film, give it some premise, anything that’ll make you say “Hey that plot sounds interesting!” like I do with most of my reviews, you won’t find it here. Because Yi Yi doesn’t centralize on one theme, it doesn’t cater to one type of audience, it doesn’t force you to feel, anything. It shows the essence of humanity as it’s seen from a camera lens. It shows the tenderness of lost love, the innocence of childhood, the struggles in coming of age. And it allows you, the audience, to interpret it whichever way you please.
I could endlessly talk about how beautifully the film is shot, with conversations being shown through the reflection of a window and other creative shots that capture the richness of a person’s everyday struggles. However what really separates Yi Yi with any other film is how discrete everything feels. Let me explain, when you start watching a film, most of the shots feel like they’ve been taken by a camera in a studio with many lighting effects and so on. But with Yi Yi, as a scene unfolds, you gradually get a sense that you’re in the film with them, as if everything that’s so artificial about modern day films suddenly disappears. It’s almost like you’re not supposed to hear these conversations, that you’re eavesdropping on a shockingly close and personal level. And the best thing about it is that you don’t realize any of this until you’ve finished the film.
When the film starts it picks up after a wedding. Yang captures the birth of a new era, new responsibilities and a huge shift in an individual’s life. Yet he contrasts things with the small moments we take for granted for, like in the film when after the wedding ends we a get a brief but valuable moment. NJ brings Yang Yang to a nearby McDonalds because he doesn’t like the food served at the wedding. Scenes like this perfectly encapsulate our everyday struggles, and reflects the beauty of it like no other film does.
As I’m writing this review right now, I’m pondering over why my chair gets so hot so fast, why my tea’s just a bit more bitter than usual, why I can’t rub off that stain from my table. And the thing is, I’ll probably remember these insignificant first world problems over the things I’ve taken for granted today. Like how beautiful the sunset was when I took my evening jog or the lovely conversation I had with a stranger during my morning lecture. Instead, I choose to stress myself out and focus on how exams are in three weeks. And if you’re on the same page, then try to focus a little but more on the little things you take for granted in your day. So stop thinking about the meaning of “Yi Yi”, it’s the title of the film, get over it.