Yi Yi (A One and a Two)
dir. Edward Yang
Opens Fri Jan 19 at the Varsity.

WHEN A MOVIE is good, it draws you in and makes you forget about time and space. When a movie is bad, it pushes you away in such a way that, even if it's short, it can feel like an eternity. Edward Yang's fantastic new film, Yi Yi--which has already won several film critics' awards and landed Yang the prize for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival--is one of the shortest films of the year, despite the fact that its running time is nearly three hours.

The title repeats the Chinese character for "one," a phrase that means "individually." That's appropriate because the movie foregoes stock characters for representations of actual individuals. The English subtitle for the film is even more apposite; "A One and a Two" is the countdown a jazz musician would make before entering into a song, and Yi Yi flows together so well that it's easy to get lost in the rhythms of the simple but intricately connected lives of its characters.

Yi Yi opens at a wedding and closes at a funeral, and in between lies a remarkably observant summation of the ups and downs of a middle-class family in Taipei, Taiwan. (A locale that becomes a well-rounded character in its own right. "I love urban life," Yang told me, "because it's more interesting: the people you meet--all kinds of people you meet--and the interactions and chemistry.") Computer engineer NJ Jian (Wu Nienjen) and his wife Min-Min (Elaine Jin) are pulled away from his brother-in-law's wedding to a very pregnant bride when Min-Min's mother suffers a stroke and goes into a coma. They eventually bring her home and are encouraged to talk to her in a game attempt to bring her back to consciousness.

These one-sided conversations with the comatose woman allow the family members a forum to work out their individual concerns: NJ's eight-year-old son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) learning about life; NJ's teenage daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) struggling with a crush on her best friend's boyfriend; Min-Min's realization of the pointless repetitiveness of her life; and NJ's accidental reunion with Sherry (Ke Suyun), whom he ditched without notice decades earlier but met by coincidence at his brother's reception. Given a second chance to make right by his first love, he re-evaluates his entire life.

"I had the idea for quite a while," Yang tells me, "but I knew I was too young to treat it.... I just found it's a nice way to tell a life story, if I tell a story about a family with each age group represented by a member, and somehow they're intimately related. And then I knew I was too young--I was not even 40. So I let it sit and kind of mature until a couple of years ago.

"I've been very lucky on this one," Yang claims. "Any director could have won the director's prize [at Cannes], so I was lucky it was me this year." He's being modest, because his film was certainly the deserving recipient of that and every other prize it has received.

A genial man with some gray in his hair and a self-deprecating laugh that returns throughout our interview, Edward Yang is that rare type of artist who will credit his collaborators before he'll credit himself. Meeting him, you can see exactly why people will give him their all in order to help him achieve his vision.

He had been a computer engineer before a viewing of Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God inspired him to quit his job and try a more cinematic path. He ended up at USC film school for a semester in the early '70s, but didn't take to its role as a Hollywood training ground, so he gave up on filmmaking altogether and moved to Seattle for seven years, getting a job in a UW research laboratory. "I picked the right town after USC," Yang remembers (if the wrong town to rid himself of that movie itch). "At the time, Seattle was really the best movie town, so I got a chance to see a lot of alternative films."

Moving back to Taiwan, he took what he learned and created a respected body of work. Now his films are returning to Seattle, and he's being given the chance to give back to the city that which he gleaned from it: excellent filmmaking. Do not miss this opportunity to see this wonderful film.