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The Criterion Collection presents
Yi yi (A One and a Two) (2000)

"Strange. 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?"
- Mr. Ota (Issey Ogata)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: July 10, 2006

Stars: Nianzhen Wu, Kelly Lee
Other Stars: Elaine Jin, Issey Ogata, Jonathan Chang, Xisheng Chen, Suyun Ke, Michael Tao, Shushen Xiao, Adrian Lin, Yupang Chang, Ruyun Tang, Shuyuan Xu, Xinyi Zeng
Director: Edward Yang

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, brief nudity, some sexual content)
Run Time: 02h:53m:19s
Release Date: July 11, 2006
UPC: 715515018623
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+A- B-

DVD Review

Movies are so often artificial escapism; it's rare to find a picture that really understands the peaks and valleys of the everyday. Last year's Junebug, one of the best films of 2005, is one of those rare films, and to that list I can now add Taiwan director Edward Yang's Yi yi, originally released in 2000.

The movie follows a few months in the lives of three generations of an ordinary family in Taiwan. It begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral, and in-between are scattered moments of the day to day; I suppose there's a story, but calling it a plot would probably be a stretch—that's not the point. NJ (Nianzhen Wu) is the hero of the piece, a middle-aged business executive with a wife, a teenage daughter, and an 8-year-old son. The distracted bustle of his life is disturbed when he runs into his first love in an elevator. This is Sherry (Suyun Ke), whom he loved and left 30 years ago. They've both made their own lives, but her reappearance will lead him to question his past decisions and re-examine his present, to consider how much of an impact our decisions have on making us who we are.

Each member of NJ's family plays a part. His mother-in-law is in a coma, and his wife Min-min makes it a point to speak with her everyday, but she can't think of anything better to do than talk about her own life. Gradually, she realizes she can't tell one day from the next, ("I have nothing to say to mother," she says. "I tell her the same things every day. How can I be so little? I live a blank.") prompting her to follow her own path to self-discovery, whether or not it does her any good. Daughter Ting-ting (Kelly Lee), meanwhile, is also searching for herself, experimenting with friendships and first loves and battling her own disappointments and shattered expectations.

Yang-Yang is NJ's son. Too young to feel the weight of uncertainty, he seeks to answer those unanswerable questions. "Daddy, can we only know half the truth? I can only see what's in front, not what's behind," he says, but a camera provides the solution. He gives a relative a picture of the back of his head (his uncle can't see it himself) and snaps photos of the bugs fluttering in the hallway, concrete proof of their existence.

There are many more story threads. NJ's business troubles and his friendship with a Japanese videogame designer named Mr. Ota (Issey Ogata); the two share a love of music and a philosophical worldview but are so culturally divided they can only converse in English. Ting-ting feels responsible for her grandmother's coma and battles her grief and guilt, even as she considers a relationship with her best friend's boyfriend. NJ contemplates reconnecting with Sherry, who has her own questions about the past. Other members of NJ's extended family also move in and out of the story. This is a long film—nearly three hours—but it never feels that way, and the characters have enough substance that we wouldn't have a problem spending a few more hours with them. Despite the foreign setting, the emotions are universal, and without too many changes, the same things could be going on in any given American city.

Director Edward Yang's style is reserved and observational; he prefers to hang back and let scenes play out rather than cut in and tell the audience what to think. He's constantly finding unique camera angles, shooting scenes from around corners, through glass, or peeking across hallways. There are long takes of characters standing silently, contemplating, but the pacing never slows; rather, it's as if we're witnessing private moments, and that these characters continue to exist when they leave the screen. The director also plays with editing to underline without overemphasizing—we hear NJ and Sherry remembering the uncertain fluttering of first love while we watch Ting-ting in a very similar scenario. Essayist and film critic Kent Jones refers to it as "poetic overlapping," and it's Yi yi's most striking, yet subtle, stylistic device, complemented by recurring visual and aural motifs (doors opening and closing, images in the foreground and background changing in prominence, scenes playing out in reflection or total darkness), that emphasize the film's cyclical themes.

But never mind all of that; Yi yi is a film of exceptional merit not only because it's thoughtfully done, but because it's provoking, even profound, and bursting with life. This isn't a movie populated by characters, but by real people, and their struggles and failures and disappointments don't feel forced or predetermined (save for a late-in-coming act of violence, an odd and somewhat arbitrary tying off of a few dangling narrative threads). Through scenes of romantic longing, youthful confusion, and mild slapstick-like humor, Yang's examination of daily life provides no easy answers, finds no solution to problems of heartbreak and depression, but reveals the simple beauty in the rhythms of existence. Though the ending isn't what you'd call happy, or even really an ending, it is, ultimately, uplifting. Perhaps it's not our place to understand the purpose of our lives, but also, perhaps, it won't always be a mystery.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Originally released in Region 1 by Fox Lorber, Criterion provides Yi yi with a new transfer that is much improved, but also significantly different. Detail and clarity are much better than on the previous disc; while the image lacks an overall crispness, it looks fairly solid. Colors are somewhat muted and overall, the image is much darker than the older disc, reportedly in keeping with the director's wishes. The film looks grainier than a big budget Hollywood production, but not distractingly so.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Mandarinyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in the original Mandarin 2.0, and it's a nice track. Dialogue is always clear and natural, and while the mix is front-heavy, there's also a lot more surround action than found on most 2.0 tracks. Rainstorms and crowd noise often expand into the rear channels, creating a more enveloping experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Edward Yang and critic Tony Rayns
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: There are fewer extras here than on many of Criterion's recent releases. The most informative is a new commentary track with writer/director Edward Yang and Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns (Yang recorded a solo track for the for the original R1 release). It's an interesting, if low-key affair. Rayns prompts the director with questions about a given scene and he explains his motivations as best he can. I wouldn't say it added a lot to my interpretation of the film, but it's worth a listen if you're a fan.

Everyday Realities (15m:16s) is a new interview with Rayns, who discusses a bit of the history of cinema in Taiwan and the New Taiwan Cinema movement that began in the late 1970s. It's rather dry, if only because most of the names bandied about are meaningless to the average Western audience, and there are no clips from the many pictures referenced. It was a bit surprising to hear that, due to distribution problems, Yang has never allowed Yi yi to be shown in Taiwan.

The disc also includes a trailer, while the accompanying booklet features comments from Yang and an essay by critic Kent Jones.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A studied, thoughtful slice-of-life story, Edward Yang's Yi yi is a sprawling, warm, often funny portrait of a Taiwanese family that probably won't seem much different than your own. Criterion's release is the definitive version, with a newly remastered transfer and a small but worthy collection of extras.

 


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