Shit. It’s 3am and I’m still not asleep. Well… what else can I expect after drinking an intense French coffee for my dinner at seven in the evening? Since I have not had caffeine in my body for God-knows-how-long, my system is on complete overdrive. Thankfully, I’m not hyper. My mind, however, is functioning at a very alert state. Usually, I’m very slow and unfocused this late into the night. Yet, I feel like I just woke up.
So, I just finished watching Yi Yi, written and directed by Edward Yang, for the second time in a row. I was so throughly impressed the first time that I had to see it again with the director’s commentary. (Of course, it was also an excuse to give me something to do while I couldn’t sleep!)
The film was long. There were a lot of scenes where very little dialogue took place. I wouldn’t say they were dramatic pauses. Rather, the character’s were so well-developed that I had a good sense of their psychology. I didn’t need to hear what they were thinking. I just felt it. My first thoughts when the movie ended were, “Wow… that was long for a Mandarin flic (two and a half hours),” and then “That movie was very deep – sublime, even.”
The film was a story about a family, The Jians: NJ (husband), Ming-Ming (wife), Ting-Ting (15-year old daughter), Yang-Yang (7-year old son). Each character went through his or her own individual experience. NJ met with his first love after 30 years; Ming-Ming sought more meaning to her life; Ting-Ting experienced her first romance; and Yang-Yang discovered life in a way that only the youth could. All of these individual moments, though experienced separately, were woven together in a sort of familial tapestry, connecting at the root with the Grandmother who had suddenly fallen into a coma.
There is more to this movie than just the depth of the vicarious experience. One can observe the peculiarities of Chinese culture from the wedding ceremony and head-strong Chinese women, to the loans between friends and family and central importance of the elderly. Also, the film reaches out to a wide audience. NJ and Ming-Ming represented the middle-aged population. Ting-Ting and Yang-Yang represented the younger members of society: teenagers in the former, and old-soul children in the latter. Each character went through an issue that I think many of us would face at some point in our lives. If given a second chance, would we make a different choice in our past relationships? If we had to account for our day, would the summary of our activities be significant – or last longer than a minute in the telling? Why is love experienced in our lives different than the love that we see on the silver screen? How can we know the whole truth if our eyes can only show what is ahead of us? We can never see what is behind us at the same time as we look forward.
One line in the movie stood out to me in particular. And, I think it is a great summary of my feelings for this film: “Movies make our lives three times as long… our lives are extended because we experience something we otherwise would not have every time we watch a movie.”