by Greg Muskewitz
A lot of times when movies premiere at festivals like Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and a whole gaggle of others, before the movie is actually released to a regular theatrical engagement, it amasses a healthy standing of critical buzz and praise. "Yi Yi" ("A One and a Two...") is nothing more than a case of me getting excited over something that I really wasn't that excited about in the first place.The three-hour drama takes its time to ungracefully unfold. Going back and forth between Taiwanese, Mandarin, Japanese and English, Edward Yang, the writer and director, supplies us with a long yet often traveled road, but without the proper viaticum. "Yi Yi" is a movie about refreshing and renewing choices and vying for a second, sometimes third chance in the game of life.
"'A One and a Two' and just about a Third-hour too."
The movie starts off with the wedding of A-Di (Chen Xisheng) and his very pregnant girlfriend Xiao Yan (Xiao Shusen). Having postponed the wedding for many-a-month to await what the almanac has listed as "the luckiest day of the year," things start to go awry when A-Di's ex-girlfriend creates a ruckus, and his mother suffers a bad stroke while at home.
The story shifts to A-Di's sister, Min-Min's (Elaine Jin) family, consisting of her husband NJ (Wu Nienjen), a partner in a computer company, and their children, Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee), a high schooler, and Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), a curious little boy. The family is already thrown off by the stroke of Min-Min's mother, but each character is set up for some time of additional crisis, breakdown or epiphany. NJ's first girlfriend has come back, Min-Min is suffering a mental breakdown, Ting-Ting is discovering her very first love much in the fashion of her father, etc. Each character, including A-Di, his wife, his ex-girlfriend, and quite a few other characters are followed on their own trajectories, and much of those individual examinations is what builds up the running time.
The characters aren't as hard to follow as in Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Flowers of Shanghai," but none of them have anything really interesting or unusual to lock onto. Their lives are hardly the artistic fodder one is curious to see played out on-screen. Many similarities traced directly to "American Beauty" including the rift in the marriage, the youngster's exploration of love, finding the "old" self --the self that was happy at a time-- and even murder.
Critics seem to love making a fuss over children, and though I haven't heard any for Chang, I would not have made any clamor for him either. The performance is satisfactory, and the boy is not a bad actor, but he doesn't have the natural qualities often that younger performers are (prematurely) credited with. Chang, albeit cute, appears to be coached and stuffy, and the spiel that he goes into about confirming what we see instead of assuming --or finding out the root of the truth-- was another in the line of overly precocious kids being used as a mouthpiece for the director/writer's own specific motives, and when it is as noticeable as this, it works against the message. The two really good performances, the best things worth watching in "Yi Yi," is that of Nienjen, trying to be as calm and understanding as possible in the current situations, and Issey Ogata, an important writer in his own right. As much as both of these actors have and use a considerable amount of talent, in the overall gameplan of the movie, they are not there enough, nor are they strong enough to make any changes in the long run.
"Yi Yi" does not go without merits, but it certainly does not answer up to any of the critical huffing and puffing so many critics' groups were howling about at the end of the year. (Mainly the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.) If these elements are screaming at you as a cultural remix of "American Beauty" (which I'd hardly consider it, at least not a decent mix), then maybe the idea of making this into a picnic sounds appealing. Yang's script yearns too ardently to be sapiential in a dull manner, and his inconsistency in technique, following no style or pattern, only jumping from image to image, make this a long roll of over-exposed film. One is not required to have a so-called "style" that they must use, but there is nothing overly advantageous about the way Yang films a scene. There is no consonance in his technique, whether with the separation and dissection of each character's progressing story, or to heighten the effect in any of the individual scenes. Yang meanders in his mise-en-scène, showing only minimal attempts to frame scenes and make decent compositions, and he certainly does not make adept use of editing.Final Verdict: C-.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4946&reviewer=172
originally posted: 04/22/01 09:01:08