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Film Reviews Mint Chinese Film Festival

Review: Yi Yi. A beautiful collection of gossip and family drama

  • Release year: 2000
  • Director: Edward Yang.
  • Producers: Shin’ya Kawai, Osamu Kunota, Naoko Tsukeda and Wei-Yen Yu.
  • Screenplay by: Edward Yang.
  • Cinematographer: Wei-Han Yang.
  • Music by: Kai-Li Peng.

Synopsis: the story of a family from their celebration of a wedding to their gathering at a funeral.

Shotgun Commentary: a piece of real life represented in the most fascinating and accurate of ways.

The Jian family posing for a wedding picture. Source: Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000).

Review

Yi Yi’s narrative follows the fates of different members of the Jian family. It begins when they get together for a wedding and ends when they reunite for a funeral. During this period of time, each member of the family goes through a rollercoaster of emotional development and maturity that they are unable, or unwilling, to share with the others. This idea is also reflected through the title (yi yi = one one), where the concept of being alone while being part of a group is put in the most minimalist of ways.

Trash TV without the trash…or the TV

The story is halfway between a movie and a reality show. The spectator is put in a voyeur position. They see what happens, but are not informed of any character’s thoughts or intentions.

Yang-Yang hiding from the mean little girls at his uncle’s wedding.
Source: Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000).

In this sense, the viewing experience is similar to that of watching a TV show like Big Brother. Except with far more enriching narratives, cultured characters, and way less gratuitous sex. It fulfils the natural human desire of watching gossip and drama unfold without cheapening people’s lives and adding a share of vital lessons that you can take notes from.

Past is present and future

The use of intergenerational dramatical arcs and their weaving to form the Jian’s fabric of life is one of the main attractions of the film. The way the stories are laid out along the footage plays with the belief that time is somewhat cyclical. It hints that individuals are hardwired to make the same mistakes and decisions over and over, even if they are already aware of the outcome.

Ting-Ting, Yang-Yang’s older sister, waiting with her best friend for the latter’s boyfriend. Source: Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000).

This representation of existence is beautifully paired with several moments of comfort brought by the reasuring notion that choosing morality is always the right path. Some characters get hurt because of that choice. Yet they understand that it is a lesser pain than the one remorse would bring. This karmic perspective turns misfortunes into bittersweet memories.

Female perspective

Another fascinating area of Yi Yi’s narrative is its female representation. While sometimes it is borderline cliché and offensive, it shows faithfully the product of society’s standards and rules towards women. All female characters are pitted against each other at one point of the feature or another. The teenager neighbours fight over a stalker, a woman schemes to insert herself in the life of her former lover and his new pregnant wife, the grandmother hates her son’s new wife for being pregnant, etc.

Ting-Ting talking to her grandmother. Source: Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000).

If one looks closely at these problems, they all have the same root: men. Or, more specifically, the brainwashing women suffer since they are born to think that they have to fight for men. That you have to be better than every woman you meet or know of, or your worth disappears. To this end, Yi Yi shows perfectly capable women rendered useless, crazy, sour or emotionally destroyed by the actions of thoughtless men who have been educated to think of them as a means for sex and having children, nothing more.

The obvious difference in intellect between them and some of the male that they endure is so apparent that it makes your blood boil. This odious treatment of the opposite sex takes place during every phase of life, which becomes apparent through Yang-Yang’s behaviour towards the girl he likes in school.

Where it all begins

In addition to all the teenage and adult problems, there is Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), a little child who sees far more than adults give him credit for. He is a smart, sweet kid most of the time, but when it comes to the girl he likes, he becomes mean.

Yang-Yang making faces at school. Source: Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000).

The idea of pranking or making fun of the girl you like is a behaviour considered normal nowadays. However, it is but the makings of what will turn into more patriarchal behaviours to submit women and make them feel worthless so men can control them. It might seem a bit of a leap, but Yi Yi cleverly exposes how that behaviour evolves through the display of several generation’s stories.

Furthermore, it doesn’t fall in the trap of using the physical gender violence to describe sexism. This type of abuse is usually utilised as a smoke screen to hide other sexist behaviours that go by unnoticed under the mantel of obvious violence. By not using it, Yi Yi shines a light on everyday sexist behaviours.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • Getting married while being pregnant is fantastic, getting married BECAUSE you are pregnant is a terrible choice.
  • Never let a man tell you your worth.
  • Lost loves sometimes are exactly that, and you need to let them go to be happy.
Wedding celebrations. Source: Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000).

What’s your take? Have you watched Yi Yi? What do you think of the Jian family? This film was screened in the 2024 Mint Chinese Film Festival in Keswick, so if you like its narrative you might want to keep your eyes peeled for their next edition, great things are coming!

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