Beginning with a wedding, ending with a funeral, and touching on a vast wealth of human experience in between, Taiwanese director Edward Yang's intimate masterpiece Yi Yi is about nothing short of life itself, with all its surprises, mysteries, affections, and regrets. Unfolding with the serene assurance and complexity of a great novel, Yang's story centers on an upper-middle-class Taipei family that could be called dysfunctional, but that is, in a way, more universal than the plate-hurling monsters usually associated with the term. Like many modern urban families, their individual lives have eclipsed their existence as a unit so thoroughly that the two are partitioned off from one another, with private passions and crises tucked away like closely guarded secrets. Little hostility is shown among father, mother, daughter, and son, but just by virtue of following their divergent subplots, Yang suggests their alienation from each other and the city around them. In a quiet, exquisitely sad performance, Nien-Jen Wu plays a businessman at the downturn of his career who's reminded of the path not taken when he runs into an old flame (Su-Yun Ko) he abandoned 30 years earlier. His wife (Elaine Jin), thrown into deep depression after her mother's stroke leaves her in a coma, joins a religious cult to find the support and spiritual guidance she's not getting at home. Their daughter (Kelly Lee), a shy high-school student, risks her friendship with a troubled neighbor girl by falling for her ex-boyfriend, adding more confusion and uncertainty to Lee's first real romance. Meanwhile, Wu and Jin's young son (Jonathan Chang), a playful and intellectually curious outcast at the elementary school, starts taking pictures of the backs of people's heads in order to show them what they can't see. His photographs cut to the heart of Yang's artistry, speaking to a desire to reveal the deeply repressed and often painful truths that people hide from each other, and often from themselves. The chief pleasure of watching Yi Yi is to be privy to these solitary moments, especially as seen through the eyes of such a wise and astute observer of human behavior. Although the four main characters rarely cross paths, Yang still finds meaningful parallels between them, culminating in an unforgettable sequence in which Wu reminisces with his old lover in Tokyo while his daughter has her first date in Taipei. Rarely have matters of the heart been handled with such self-effacing delicacy and grace, as the older and younger generations stand at opposite ends of their romantic histories. Patient, mature, and emotionally accessible, Yi Yi is a pointillist classic, a family epic built from minute details.
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