It is a new year and a new…um…this is Yi Yi.
It is the wedding of Xiao Yan and A-Di. And…Xiao Yan is kind of pregnant. Okay. Not a big deal. This is the year 2000 and everything is modern. Nevermind the sound of a crying baby. That is not a sign of anything bad. Anyways, family photo time. The kids are at the front and the girls keep hassling the boy.
A woman enters the banquet room while people are setting up the place. When politely asked what she is doing there, she responds quite rudely. Ting-Ting, niece of the groom, recognizes her as Yun-Yun. Yun-Yun is…sort of nice to her, asking where her grandmother is. Ting-Ting looks over to her grandmother and Yun-Yun rushes over. She apologizes for…uh…she says that she should have been the one marrying A-Di. What, did the mother like her better or something? Min-Min, A-Di’s sister and Ting-Ting’s mother, tries to quietly guide Yun-Yun away from her mother as the unwelcome guest starts badmouthing the bride.
Ting-Ting’s grandmother tells her that she is not feeling well and wants to go home. As Yun-Yun starts screaming about Xiao Yan, Ting-Ting goes to tell her father, NJ. I guess that he is going to have to take her home before the banquet. I don’t know if he realizes that he put the photograph upside down before he leaves.
A One And A Two
NJ drives Grandma home and Ting-Ting walks her back to the apartment. Another family is moving into the unit next door. The girl apologizes for the mess and introduces herself as Jiang Lili. Ting-Ting introduces herself as…Jian Ting-Ting. The Jians and the Jiangs.
Ting-Ting is taking out the garbage when she notices Lili talking to a boy. Apparently, he had followed her here. Lili says that her mother will be angry, but the boy insists that he misses her. Lili takes the boy elsewhere to continue the conversation. With that done, Ting-Ting goes to bring down the other garbage bag from the balcony…only to notice Lili and the boy carrying on their conversation under a nearby bridge. She gets so distracted that she totally forgets about the garbage bag when NJ calls to her.
On the car ride back, Ting-Ting starts to think that maybe Grandma actually does prefer Yun-Yun to Xiao Yan. NJ asks whether Grandma actually said that. No, but she has been unhappy all day, said that she feels really old. Ting-Ting asks her father what that means, but the scene cuts before we hear his response.
Min-Min is trying to…downplay the significance of her new sister-in-law being pregnant when the boy walks by. Oh, the boy is her son and his name is Yang-Yang. Sister Ting-Ting tells their mother that the girls had been teasing him again. Yeah, they threw his shoe. Min-Min continues about unmarried pregnancies and one of the men at the table calls that a marriage trap, one that has worked on Min-Min’s brother. Yang-Yang is still stewing about the girls.
NJ comes around and asks his son why he isn’t eating. Ting-Ting says that the girls were teasing him again. NJ offers Yang-Yang a camera, but Min-Min tells her husband to let him be. Erm…so…NJ takes Yang-Yang to McDonald’s. That’s fine. Could have had a gourmet meal on his brother-in-law’s dime, but paying for fast food works as well.
NJ and Yang-Yang are returning to the venue when they encounter…Sherry. A former girlfriend. NJ and the woman are surprised to see each other, while Yang-Yang is…kind of bored. Sherry asks if NJ is still based here in Taipei. She says that she is in the United States now. She says that Yang-Yang is cute. She gives NJ a card with her phone number on it and then walks away. While NJ and Yang-Yang wait for the elevator, Sherry comes back and angrily asks NJ why he didn’t come that day; saying that she had waited and waited and never got over it. Right in front of Yang-Yang too. Before NJ can explain or escape to the elevator, his friend Da-Da emerges from the elevator. Sherry turns all friendly again and gives him a card as well. Apparently, they all knew each other way back when. Sherry says that she will be in town quite a bit as her husband does business in China.
Father and son are moping in the venue. A cigar causes a balloon to burst behind NJ, which gives Yang-Yang an idea. He takes a balloon, runs over to the table where the girls are dozing off, pops the balloon, and runs off. The girls all start crying grasping at their mothers.
After the wedding is the brief quiet in the car ride home. They don’t make it home, though, as a neighbor says that Min-Min’s mother is in the hospital. Ting-Ting and Yang-Yang go home while NJ and Min-Min go to the hospital. Min-Min goes to see her mother while NJ stays out in the hall with a neighbor until A-Di arrives. Apparently, Grandma had a stroke. The neighbor says that she saw her lying in the driveway by the dustbins, but she does not know if Grandma had been hit by a car or just fell. NJ is confused as to why she was by the dustbins in the first place. Before the neighbor can say anything, A-Di and his buddies arrive.
NJ is not happy that A-Di has driven to the hospital drunk. But A-Di assures him that Grandma will be fine. After all, this is the luckiest day of the year, which is why he had scheduled the wedding for today. I don’t suppose that A-Di believes that his mother had a stroke of luck. NJ tries to argue that it is not that simple, but A-Di is on a roll. He claims that NJ does not trust him because he had to borrow money from him and Min-Min when he was unlucky. But A-Di insists that his luck has changed and he will repay what he owes. NJ says that there is no rush, but A-Di mentions his partner Piggy, who was at the wedding. A-Di says that Piggy will pay him back tomorrow, and then he will pay NJ back the day after that. Meanwhile, A-Di’s drunken friends are goofing off in the hallway.
NJ and Min-Min return home, waking up Ting-Ting. NJ is still hung up on Grandma being downstairs. If Ting-Ting had taken the garbage out in the afternoon, then there would be no reason for Grandma to be by the dustbins. And they still don’t know if she simply fell or was hit by a car. The doctors could not check for that yet? I guess that NJ did not realize that Ting-Ting had left a garbage bag on the balcony. Well, she is not going to tell her parents now, is she?
Min-Min is telling one of her coworker Nancy about what happened. She tries to see it as her brother does, that it being a lucky day prevented their mother from dying. Nancy seems skeptical. So, Min-Min asks what her “master” would think. What…like a spiritual master? Nancy suggests that Min-Min ask him herself. Min-Min reminds her that she was with her at that temple for two weeks, but did not understand the Master’s teachings. Nancy suggests perhaps taking more time, but Min-Min says that she is too busy. Nancy suggests that Min-Min has more humility. Min-Min takes that to mean that there is something wrong with her.
A group of kids are goofing off in the school by the stairs instead of cleaning the area like they are supposed to. Yang-Yang brought a balloon and wears it under his shirt to mimic how his new aunt looked at her wedding. Oh, come on. Uncle A-Di had a bigger belly than Xiao Yan had. A girl with…I guess…a hall monitor vest walks down the stairs. The kids refer to her as Concubine, which gets her attention. She turns around and yells at them. She singles out Yang-Yang, though it is unclear whether she saw the balloon. As she is storming off, one of Yang-Yang’s classmates jokes that Concubine likes him, and that her “old man” will be jealous. Who is her old man?
Smash cut to class. The “old man” teacher claims that one of the students brought a condom to class and he demands that the guilty party stand up. None of the kids stand up, so the teacher tells Yang-Yang to stand up and hand over the condom. Yang-Yang asks what a condom is, which gets a couple of his classmates laughing as if they know what a condom is. The teacher is furious, accusing Yang-Yang of playing dumb, but Yang-Yang stands his ground. He says that the teacher accusing him because of something he heard without seeing it himself. The teacher claims that the condom is in Yang-Yang’s left pocket. He comes over and pulls it out himself. What is this, he asks Yang-Yang. A balloon. Now all of the kids laugh. The teacher demands quiet and then…says that he will let Yang-Yang off this time, but he had better watch out…and then he leaves, without even taking the balloon. Wait, was he not the teacher of the class? Well, with him gone the kids laugh even harder.
Ting-Ting encounters Mrs. Jiang at the elevator. During the small talk, Ting-Ting says how beautiful Lili sounds playing the cello. Mrs. Jiang asks if Ting-Ting plays an instrument. Yes, but Ting-Ting says that she is not good at it. Mrs. Jiang tells her that it is better to be good at books anyways.
NJ is at work and…well, whatever his work is, it is not going well. Apparently, they lost money after an expansion and an investor guy or something is threatening to pull out of a deal. He is really needling NJ and the others while looking like he is about to disappear into a suit that is about to disappear into the table. Anyways, one of NJ’s colleagues insists that they have a plan, though he does not want to tell the investor the whole thing. He does bring up a Japanese man named…Ota. Okay, subtitles; you say that his name is Ota, then I say that his name is Ota. Anyways, he does computer games and the investor is maybe still in.
Over lunch and afterwards, NJ and his colleagues discuss Ota. Apparently, that was just a name thrown out to keep the investor from pulling out and the company from going under. They don’t actually know Ota and getting him might cost more than they can afford. But now that his name is in the conversation, what do they do? Do they just call it quits? NJ is getting less and less interested in this and puts on his earphones.
Ting-Ting is in a café with…Yun-Yun? And A-Di shows up? Oh dear. Ting-Ting leaves so that the A-Di and Yun-Yun can be alone. Hmmm…Yun-Yun tells A-Di that she and Ting-Ting are still close, and that she urged Ting-Ting to be kind to Xiao Yan. Did she now? Yun-Yun tells A-Di that the two of them can still be friends, regardless…right? Anyways, she takes out some papers to talk about transferring part of their savings to his accounts. Wait…were they really going to get married before…or are these just business transactions? I don’t know. She does tell him to find her a boyfriend now that she is alone, though I cannot tell if that is a joke.
Ting-Ting and Lili walk down the street. They talk a little bit about Grandma when Ting-Ting notices Lili’s boyfriend. Why doesn’t Lili go to him? Well…Lili does. So, that is the end of that little conversation.
Ting-Ting comes home to find a doctor consulting with Min-Min about Grandma, who is back, but still unconscious. He gives Min-Min a lot of instructions, with the most important being to talk to her in order to stimulate her senses. He also admits that he is not optimistic, so the family should be prepared for the worst. Ting-Ting goes into Grandma’s room and closes the blinds…which is good because Lili and her boyfriend are arguing outside.
A-Di and Xao Yan visit the Jians. As Ting-Ting plays the piano and Yang-Yang (maybe) does homework, A-Di and NJ talk on the balcony. A-Di apologizes for not having paid back NJ yet. NJ is too concerned about his own company to think about getting paid back. Apparently, he is meeting with Ota tomorrow, which he had not really wanted to earlier. A-Di has no idea what NJ is talking about.
Min-Min tells Yang-Yang that it is his turn to talk to Grandma. Yang-Yang argues that Ting-Ting has not done it yet, but Min-Min says that she had played the piano. Min-Min tries to come up with things that Yang-Yang can tell Grandma, but he still refuses, which gets Min-Min angry enough for A-Di to hear. He comes in and offers to speak to Grandma first, saying that is his turn. As Yang-Yang runs off and an exasperated Min-Min follows, A-Di tells his mother that luck is on his side now, that he has made a lot of rich friends, has stopped all of the borrowing that had made her nervous in the past, and that people come to him for loans. Is that true? Well, that is what he is telling Grandma. He also insists that she does not have to worry about Xiao Yan.
It is late at night when Ting-Ting sneaks into Grandma’s room. She quietly admits that she cannot remember if she took out the garbage. She asks Grandma to wake up as a sign of forgiveness. If she continues to sleep, then Ting-Ting will not be able to sleep.
Well, looks like Ting-Ting can certainly sleep in class. The teacher points that out, getting the class to laugh. She also notes that Ting-Ting’s plant has not bloomed, unlike several others in the class. Hmmm…Ting-Ting eventually wakes up, but the damage is done.
As A-Di and Xiao Yan get an ultrasound, NJ and his colleagues are listening to a rather bizarre lecture comparing computer games to the human condition. Erm…maybe it sounds less out there in Ota’s original Japanese. Or it would sound more palatable if given in a big auditorium and preceded by some jock jam. In any case, NJ and his colleagues don’t seem to understand it, but applaud when it is over. The question is whether they are actually going to buy what he is selling. The original plan was just to coast on Ota’s brand, but…going in for real? NJ actually seems to like it, which surprises his colleagues, since he had been most against this. Anyways, one of them has found a cheaper copycat called…the subtitles say Ato, so I am saying Ato. His colleagues decide to send Ota back to Tokyo without signing with him. It is…decided that NJ will take him out to dinner and lie that they are keen to sign, but play hard to get in order to buy time. Why NJ? Because NJ looks honest.
NJ calls home to say that he will not be back for dinner. His loss, since Ting-Ting is making…something healthy for dinner next door with Lili. Ting-Ting briefly goes to her unit to get some carrots when Mrs. Jiang returns with…Allen. Lili does a pretty bad job of hiding how uncomfortable she is with this situation, but enough that Ting-Ting does not seem to notice when she returns. Mrs. Jiang asks if they are cooking something and Lili tells her mother that she and Ting-Ting are going to the movies…something that she did not discuss with Ting-Ting. Mrs. Jiang hands Lili some cash and tell her to treat Ting-Ting to a good show. Maaaaybe Ting-Ting gets it now.
Ting-Ting and Lili go to the cinema, but…it seems like Lili is in no mood to see a movie, so they go to an music store where she can talk to her boyfriend…his name is Fatty? Does every other Chinese-language movie have a character named Fatty? He is not even fat. Ting-Ting says as much when she and Lili go out to eat something less healthy than what they were making back at the apartment. Lili says that Fatty will be coming soon, and Ting-Ting offers to leave. Lili says okay, so Ting-Ting leaves. We don’t see if Fatty arrives, but we do see Lili yell at the people behind her for being so loud.
In the meantime, NJ is having dinner with Ota. He says that Ota’s proposal is more advanced than his company realized, so they will need more time. Ota sees through it and stops NJ before he outright tells a lie. Perhaps if NJ were lying in Chinese instead of English, he could have pulled it off, but no. Ota tells NJ that his company lost a lot of money last year because they tried to do the same thing that everyone else was doing. He suggests that the companies sign, but understands if they don’t. He just wants to know when the company makes a decision. Still, he asks NJ why we are so afraid of the first time when every day is different.
After dinner, Ota gets into NJ’s car and recognizes the classical piece that is playing. They start to bond over how they started to love classical music; Ota as a child and NJ after he falls in love at fifteen. NJ realizes then that Ota may not appreciate where NJ is taking him…a Karaoke bar. Well, it turns out that Ota fits in just fine, even playing Ue o Muite Arukou (the Sukiyaki song) on the piano. Everyone seems to like him, including the bartender, who admits to NJ that times have been tough and Ota’s antics have been good for the atmosphere. People ask for an encore, so Ota starts playing Moonlight Sonata. Not quite Karaoke music, but I guess that Ota does not care.
NJ goes into the office late at night and…leaves a message on Sherry’s answering machine. Wait…was Sherry the person whom he told Ota about? Da-Da had mentioned talking with Sherry and suggested that NJ do the same, so here he is. He says that he is glad to hear that she is doing better now, though he fears that he may have been the main reason for her having a tough time before. He claims that there were many reasons for him running off all those years ago, though they sound stupid now.
NJ returns home to find Min-Min in tears. She has been saying the same things to her mother every day and has nothing else to say. It is all over in a minute. Her life has been reduced to a minute. She feels like a fool doing nothing of worth every day. NJ says that he will tell the nurse to read the newspaper to Grandma. That doesn’t seem to make Min-Min feel better.
NJ and Yang-Yang encounter Mrs. Jiang while waiting for the elevator. Mrs. Jiang tries to ignore them, but Yang-Yang attempts to look at her face. NJ tries to subtly tell his son to leave her alone, and less so once they get to the parking garage. Yang-Yang says that he just wanted to see why she was so unhappy, and cannot see from behind. NJ asks how Yang-Yang knows that she is unhappy, as if he could not overhear her having a screaming match with someone while Min-Min was having a breakdown last night. Once in the car, Yang-Yang asks…if he cannot see what his father sees, and his father cannot see what he sees, then how can Yang-Yang know what his father sees? That is kind of a deep question for…wait. Is this about the condom incident? NJ admits that he has never thought of that, but says that that is why they need a camera. Then Yang-Yang asks if we can only know half the truth. That he can see only what is in front, not what is behind. NJ is confused and so am I. Instead of answering, NJ asks Yang-Yang where they should take Min-Min this weekend to cheer her up.
Min-Min arrives early to work…or stays late…either way, she is in the dark staring out into the darkness when others come in. She calls for Nancy and asks where she can go.
A neighbor encounters Yang-Yang taking photographs of the…ceiling? He claims that he is photographing the mosquitos to show his mother. Their conversation is interrupted by moaning from the Jiang unit. Erm…so, how is Yang-Yang’s mother anyways.
Ting-Ting is heading off to school when she sees her mother by the balcony, with her bags packed. Min-Min doesn’t look at her and Ting-Ting wordlessly leaves. So, that’s how Yang-Yang’s mother is.
When NJ arrives at work, the receptionist tells him that his colleagues are already meeting with Ato and they want him to join them. Ato, not Ota? Nope. Ato. NJ leaves before the receptionist can tell him that there is a call from the States.
NJ drives back home, ignoring a call on his cell phone. When he gets out front, he sees Min-Min getting into a van with a group of monks. Nancy is there to bid her goodbye. NJ knew about this, right? Right?
NJ goes into the unit, finally answers his phone and tells his colleague to call him only when necessary. Then he goes to talk to Grandma, as there is no one else to keep her company. What about the nurse? What about A-Di? Anyways, he says that he had figured that Min-Min would solve the homelife problems, but now she is gone and NJ doesn’t know when she will return. He admits that this talking to Grandma is like praying; he doesn’t know if she can hear him and he is not sure if he is sincere enough. He is not really sure about anything these days, and he wonders why he wakes up if it is just the same uncertainties again and again. He asks if Grandma would want to wake up if she had to go through that. Perhaps Yang-Yang is right and there is nothing to say to her except to ask her things that they don’t know, which is the reason that he had given for not talking to her.
It is naptime for Yang-Yang’s class. He sneaks out and runs all the way to a camera shop to get his prints and buy some more film. He runs back to school, but he gets caught by…other kids. They take him to the Old Man, who looks through his photos of the mosquitos and mockingly calls them the work of an avant-garde genius as he shows them off to the kid cops. The Old Man also sneeringly notes that Yang-Yang is not talking back like he did last time.
Ting-Ting meets with Fatty and asks how the…erm…date with Lili went the other night. Fatty hands her an envelope and tells her to give it to Lili. Well…that is not necessarily a sign that things went badly, right? Anyways, Ting-Ting gets off the elevator just in time to miss Lili making out with…most likely one of the guys from that NY Bagel place. The guy leaves and neither girl mentions him. Ting-Ting gives Lili the envelope and that is that. Ting-Ting must know that something is going on, though, so she mopes in her room while the nurse reads the newspaper to Grandma, including a story about Taiwan’s own Wen Ho Lee getting fired from Los Alamos but not being convicted of espionage.
Dinner time. The nurse is there. Yang-Yang is in a mood, and NJ asks if his cooking is not to his son’s liking. Ting-Ting guesses that girls have been teasing him again, which is…only sort of true. Yang-Yang remains silent.
Nancy and Master have come to visit. Min-Min is not with them, but Nancy claims that she is doing well in the temple. Master is here to check on the family. Maybe NJ can come along to the temple. NJ says that, while he always needs help from others, he worries about angering the gods by making too many requests, and thinks holding off for times when he truly needs the help of the gods would impress them more. And, so far, that has not happened. He does write a check to…the temple group. Meanwhile, Yang-Yang seems to be trying to…make a water balloon?
Just as Nancy and Master leaves, A-Di arrives. Now, I understand why Yang-Yang was butt-ass naked and NJ was in his underwear, but why is A-Di in his underwear? Well, he ends up not going to see NJ, and goes to see Yun Yun instead. Apparently, Xiao Yan kicked him out. He needs money for the cab ride and…he feels ashamed to ask for money from NJ when he still has not paid back the previous loan. What about the money that Yun Yun had given him to pay NJ? A-Di says that he gave that to Piggy to invest. Yun Yun tells him that she has heard that Piggy has run off to the Mainland. Anyways, Yun Yun lets him stay the night…with her in bed…and watch porn?
The next day, Yun Yun…convinces a cop to let her and A-Di into Piggy’s apartment. It looks like Piggy left and took whatever he could with him. So…A-Di is broke again. Yun Yun asks why he even trusted someone like Piggy with his money.
Yang-Yang has finally made a water balloon. He and a couple of friends are skipping audio-visual class to…drop in Concubine’s head as she walks under them…oops.
Yang-Yang and his friends go running. Yang-Yang sneaks into a…theater (?) where they are watching some video about clouds or something. Concubine walks in sometime afterwards…getting part of her skirt stuck on the door and unknowingly giving Yang-Yang a big old gander at her underwear. She goes looking for a place to sit just as video’s narrator talks about two opposing forces growing attracted to each other. I am sure that it is this image, and not simply that panty shot, that has made Yang-Yang see Concubine differently. As the video’s narrator says, this is the beginning of everything.
Yi Yi was the final full-length film by Edward Yang. And quite a full length indeed, at nearly 174 minutes. Not quite the 237 minutes of A Brighter Summer Day, but pretty hefty nonetheless. It being his final film before his death seven years later, it is easy to think of it as his magnum opus and his most personal. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps not.
The title translates to a one and a two, one by one, or one after another. I guess that it sort of suggests that happenings have inevitable consequences. Or just that things happen and we cannot fully predict what will happen just because of what has just happened. Both can be simultaneously true. And neither could be the real meaning. I have no idea.
The things that happen seem to be a byproduct of life being less perfect than one would like. It is not entirely clear what A-Di’s backstory is, but he comes across as a loud and reckless fool, especially in contrast to the more quiet and thoughtful main characters. How he managed to charm two women is left a mystery. I guess that he has some charm. The chaos of his story may have been the focus of another movie, as would the goings on with Lili’s melodramatic life. Here, that is mostly in the background, with the main characters only kind of involved and the viewer getting only a few hints of what is going on. Whatever has happened, A-Di ended up impregnating Xiao Yan and now they have to get married. Because of A-Di’s religious beliefs (which may come across as superstitious to non-Taiwanese viewers, but Yang claimed was pretty standard for the time) led to the wedding being postponed until a more auspicious date, when the pregnancy was more noticeable. A series of events may or may not have led to A-Di’s mother falling into a coma on his wedding night. And everything falls through there.
There is a theme of the road not taken. Ting-Ting may blame herself for her grandmother falling, but we don’t actually know what actually happened, because no one was watching Grandma. Perhaps she would have fallen in the apartment or at the wedding. We don’t know. What if A-Di had stayed with Yun-Yun and not impregnated Xiao Yan? What if NJ had stayed with Sherry? So many lost opportunities, yet things may have ended up pretty much the same. We don’t know. We will never know. Is there a point on dwelling on what could have been? Sometimes you just have to follow the currents of life and make the best of where it takes you.
It has been suggested that the movie is semi-autobiographical at times and Yang has kind of acknowledged that. This is seen through NJ’s dissatisfaction with working with business, Yang Yang’s bourgeoning artistic attempts to recreate other people’s experiences in the hopes of understanding them better. It does appear a little bit like NJ’s children are heading down a similar romantic path as he did when he was young, though Yang-Yang is a little younger and Ting-Ting may actually be the Sherry in her situation. It has also been suggested that the name Yang-Yang is meant to evoke the director’s name, though Edward Yang claims that it was because that is the young actor’s Chinese name. Most of his credits have him as Jonathan, but it appears that his real name being Yang-Yang is true.
Yang seemed to coyly downplay some of the more hyperbolic claims of stylistic depth to his movies, giving more practical explanations. Why did he like shooting in long takes? Because it was easier for the actors and cinematographer. Why did he shoot scenes through windows and at mirrors? Because that was an inevitable byproduct of there not being enough space to shoot in the city. Are those things true or was this just Yang being modest? I don’t know. Regardless, he has a style that is pretty apparent in this movie. And if you pick up something from it, then more power to you.
The wedding should have been a big deal for Grandma, for her only son is getting married. But she is not really feeling it. Is Ting-Ting right that she doesn’t like the bride? Or is it just that she is feeling unwell? It is difficult to say, because, apart from Yun-Yun, only Ting-Ting seems to interact with Grandma before she falls into a coma. And even then, we only hear Ting-Ting relaying what Grandma had supposedly said and she may be misinterpreting everything. Really, Grandma seems to be alone and neglected by everyone until she falls into a coma and is now fully unable to communicate. The family members have to be told to talk to an unconscious Grandma for her own good. And if they were reluctant to talk to her before, then they find it even more difficult now.
That is kind of the thing with the characters. They have trouble talking to each other, explaining themselves, or understanding what is going on. The choices that they make, the choices that they have made, the events that suddenly happen around them, they cannot figure it out on their own, but they cannot really talk about it with others. The only person who can really speak with the depth of honesty is Ota, and that is through uncomfortable English.
The family already seemed rather scattered to the winds even when they were in close proximity during the wedding. After that, they appear to be in their own little worlds. They may be together and surrounded by others, but they are lonely, kind of wandering through life as chaos unfolds on the peripheries, too wrapped up in searching for something when that something is right in front of them. NJ is struggling to find purpose as his corporate job starts to give him conflicting orders. Ting-Ting befriends her neighbor and finds herself slowly dragged into a tangled romantic mess. Yang-Yang is…sort of trying to be understood and understand others and see beyond himself, but he is perhaps too young to process his own thoughts. They each go down their own personal path and character growth…or…lack thereof. Someone smarter than I am has theorized that that is the meaning of the title. The characters are looking for a connection with someone else, to become a two; but since they can never see beyond themselves, they will only be two ones.
One somewhat peculiar choice is to have Min-Min outright disappear from the movie around halfway through. Min-Min was sort of presented as the calm and semi-practical sister of the impulsive and (not particularly uniquely) superstitious A-Di. It is her and her family, not A-Di, who takes care of their mother. But when their mother falls into the coma, Min-Min starts to unravel. She finds her life bereft of meaning. We know even less about her job than we know about NJ, but it doesn’t really matter, as it appears to amount to nothing for her. When she finally decides to…erm…let’s say…go on a spiritual journey, the movie does not follow her. It is not simply due to her no longer being in Taipei, as NJ also leaves Taipei for some time. It is said that her absence and the mystery of what she is doing is to have a later scene have more impact, but I am not sure. Again, she is Grandma’s daughter and perhaps the one most responsible for taking care of her. But she is also out of the picture. Ah well. The movie is already almost three hours long, so perhaps adding another thirty minutes or so would have been too much.
It could be just my reading the movie incorrectly, though there seems to be a somewhat…gendered breakdown in regards to the arts or to creativity. NJ may be in the corporate world, but it is not his passion. His passion has been music, ever since he turned fifteen and fell in lover for the first time. He seems to bond with Ota over that common passion. I cannot say what Edward Yang actually thought about video games, but it is an audio-visual medium and Ota seemed to treat it as a reflection of life. Meanwhile, Ting-Ting needs to be mansplained movies, a female translator filters Ota’s passion out of his words, and Min-Min struggles to follow the spiritual teachings of a man. I suppose that Lili plays the cello, so that is something. Also, Edward Yang’s wife Peng Kai-Li was the composer for this movie. As I said, I may be reading this movie incorrectly. It just seems like the “autobiographical” moments come from the male characters. Eh.
The movie is long because it is free to meander a bit, just like the characters. It acknowledges bigger characters and bigger stories, but would rather focus on the quieter characters and the quieter stories, to find meaning without actively searching for it, but perhaps by accident while meandering. The wedding is one of the big events of the movie, but even then, the movie generally ignores big moments…like the moment that that the couple become married. The movie is more interested in the moments between the momentous moments. Between events one and the next one. Between a one and a two. Oh…maybe that is the reason for the title.
WTF ASIA 247: A Record of Sweet Murder (South Korea/Japan: 2014, approx. 86 minutes)
WTF ASIA 248: Bulbul Can Sing (India: 2018, approx. 95 minutes)