Edward Yang


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Taiwanese master Edward Yang

a segment of Guang yin de gu shi/ In Our Time (1982)

That Day on the Beach (1983)

Qing Mei Zhu Ma/ Taipei Story (1985) is a realist melodrama that mixes film noir, nouvelle vague and Antonioni's gloomy existentialism.

A young man, Lon, and a young woman, Chin, visit an empty apartment that they would like to rent. The young man is dressed casually, the woman is dressed in men's clothes and acts like a manager. She is certain of a promotion and therefore of being able to afford this new place. Chin works in a modern high-rise building. She is the assistant to a powerful woman. Her coworker and friend Ko, an architect who designed many of the buildings out there, is a depressed man, ready to divorce his wife, and clearly in love with Chin. Lon has just returned from a trip to the USA. He is in love with US culture and particularly baseball. Chin's father loves Lon, and admits to him his financial troubles. Chin's sister Ling has problems too: she's a restless teenager and begs for money. A change in management in Chin's company has the side effect that they don't need her anymore. She quits, but de facto she has been fired. She tells Lon, who takes the news with some indifference. He is much more interested in watching tapes of baseball games. They've been together for years, since high school, but are not married yet. She is disappointed that he came back from America a different man. Lon, who runs a small cloth shop, plans to emigrate to the USA where he wants to start a business with his big brother, who once killed a black guy. Lon meets an old friend whose life has been going downhill since he left the army and now makes a living as a cab driver. We learn that Lon stopped in Japan to visit a former girlfriend, Gwen. Humiliated by another business man while at the bar with Chin, Lon beats him up. Ko keeps calling Chin. Chin's father lost his money gambling and the creditor is a friend of Lon and calls Lon. Lon can't help it and rescues the old man from trouble. But, when he tells Chin, she yells at him: they need the money. Lon secretely visits Gwen, who is back in town. Chin's sister is infatuated with Japanese commercials that she finds in tapes about baseball games. Chin finds out that Lon is still seeing Gwen and slaps him in the face. Lon does not respond and simply leaves. Depressed, Lon goes to play cards with friends and loses everything. One day Chin sees his car parked across the karaoke bar and calls him pretending she needs a ride. He is taking care of the three childrena of his cabbie friend, whose wife has abandoned him. When Lon arrives at the bar, he tells Chin that he doesn't own his old car anymore. She asks him to get married. He is disillusioned with their love story. She is even willing to emigrate to the USA, but he admits that it has never been a real option: he doesn't have the capital to start a business in the USA. Lon takes a cab home. The taxi driver notices that a motorcycle has been following them. Lon gets out of the taxi and beats the motorcylist; but the biker gets up, runs after him and stabs him fatally. Lon is left alone in a remote location in the middle of the night. He has to walk bleeding towards the highway, but there is very little traffic. He sits down and bleeds to death, his last thoughts being for baseball. Meanwhile, Chin gets a call from her former boss. She offers Chin a new job which, ironically, has to do with the USA. Chin accepts, although she doesn't look excited, while the police are picking up Lon's dead body from the highway. When she stares expressionless in a mirror, we are left with the impression that Chin would have preferred Lon's love than the job.

Kong bu fen zi/ The Terrorizers (1986)

The four-hour Guling Jie Shaonian Sha Ren Shijian/ The Murder Incident of the Boy on Guling Street/ A Brighter Summer Day (1991) tells two stories in one: one of struggling adults who immigrated from the mainland and have to rebuild their lives; and one of their dysfunctional kids, who, fascinated by foreign models, organize in violent gangs. The saga moves at a very slow pace, with little passion and little action. Likewise, the visual style is also a little flat.

In 1959/60 many families living in Taiwan actually came from mainland China after the nationalists lost the civil war against the communists. High-school students organize little gangs instead of studying. One is shown stealing a flashlight from a film studio, where he was spying the actors. Sir is the son of one of those parents who came from China. His father has been trying to get him transferred from night school to day school. Old friend Wango offers to help. Sir's parents argue on the bus at night while a military convoy drives in the opposite direction. At the film studio the director and the actress are arguing and he decides to fire her and look for a younger actress. Sir meets the cute Ming in the school's infirmary and falls in love with her. By sheer chance the director sees her and invites to a screen test. She tells Sir that has a boyfriend. It turns out that Ming's boyfriend is the boss of the rival gang, and Sir almost gets beaten up by its members for going out with one of "their" girls. Ming's boyfriend Honey is in hiding because he is wanted for the murder of another boy, murdered precisely because the boy was hitting on Ming. Sir's family lives in a Japanese tenement where someone is playing Japanese songs all the time, a fact that feels ironic given that China fought a war with Japan for eight years. The big attractions for these kids are the musical concerts organized by well-dressed Threads. The best singer is Cat, who is still a child. Cat asks Sir's older sister to translate lyrics of English songs for him. Sir avoids Ming but she chases him in the street. She has a screen test the following day and wants him to attend. Nonetheless she tells Sir that she misses Honey. At home Sir's mom tells the children how she was a teacher and their father a peasant, and how they met at a dance. One of the sons has pawned their mother's watch and the older sister gives him money to buy it back. Ming's mom is taken to the hospital with asthma . Ming does well at the test but Sir is not there: he is being punished at school for copying. His father begs in vain for forgiveness. He loses his temper and makes it worse Ming and her mom, once she is dismissed from the hospital, go and stay with relatives in a crowded place. Threads decides to partner with Shandong's gang, the gang that Sir belongs to. Honey's gang searches the high school for Sir after learning that he went out again with Ming, and Sir has to jump out of the window. The gang picks on another kid and new kid Ma, who has killed someone, comes to his rescue. Later Ma shows them a sword left behind in his house by a Japanese general. Sir goes out again with Ming. Honey's kids arrive again to disrupt their date but this time there is also Honey in person, wearing a sailor's uniform. Honey sends Sir free. The other gang has offered peace talks. He knows that Threads has reached an agreement with Shandong's gang and he feels betrayed by Threads. Honey tells Sir that he knows that Ming likes him (Sir). He seems ready to surrender her to him. Finally the night of the concert arrives. The band is playing English-language songs. Honey shows up alone and asks to talk with Shandong, but he's too arrogant and Shandong thows him under a car, killing him.
In the second half of the film Honey's gang takes its revenge and kills Shandong.

A Confucian Confusion (1995)

Mahjong (1996)

The existential comedy Yi Yi/ A One and a Two (2000) is a bitter meditation on the meaning of life, overloaded with philosophical observations.
It is interesting that the director tends to use the child as the main philosopher. It is the child that comes up with sentences such as "You cannot see what I see and I cannot see what you see".
The action is framed by the grandma's coma: it starts with the cause of that coma, and it ends with her death. The grandma doesn't play an active role in the film, but the characters revolve around her, psychologically and morally. The members of the family can't communicate among themselves, so they talk to her, who can't hear, and discuss their problems only with her. She represents a morality that is dying away, but she inspires her family to uphold that morality.
As usual, the film is beautifully photographed. In addition, Yang excels at using window panes to double the dynamics: by overlapping the reflection or the refraction of another environment to the main action, Yang provide the characters with a broader context than just the narrow room or office where they are moving. A woman has a crisis in a skyscraper's office and we see (and hear) from the window the busy roads of the city. The father is in the office and we see (and hear) his secretary outside talking to a friend on the phone.
Yang is a master of subtlety. From the beginning a number of subplots are interwined with the main plot (the girls teasing the child, the daughter spying her friend's love rendesvouz from the window, the father's meeting with his first sweetheart, etc) but they are barely noticeable. The very reason for the tragedy (the garbage bag that the daughter forgot to bring downstairs) is shown only for one second. Not even Hitchcock made such a parsimonious and effective use of "signs".
The main tragic events (from the hospitalization of the grandmother to the murder) are hardly emphasized. They happen in a few seconds, and very often we know that something important happened only because we see an ambulance or a police car. They are over in a few seconds. But then Yang spends hours showing the effects of those events.
Yang is a master also at directing actors and at composing scenes. Every detail matters and every person in the scene matters, no matter how secondary. Each scene is carefully composed, like in a Rembrandt painting.

At the wedding of A-Di, NJ's brother, with the woman who is pregnant of his child, Xiao Yen, A-Di's elderly mother is unhappy. A-Di's former fiance` show up uninvited and makes a scene in front of the old woman. Several relatives and friends thinks that the bride stole A-Di from her and grandma seems to be also sorry for the whole affair. She asks to be taken home. The girls of the family seem to enjoy teasing Yang-Yang, NJ's child. Ting Ting, NJ's daughter, is a quiet and shy girl who sees from the window her best friend Lili (who lives next door) meet secretely with her boyfriend Fatty. Ting Ting is told to bring the garbage downstairs but forgets one bag on the balcony. On the way back after dropping his mother back at the apartment, NJ accidentally bumps into his first love, Sherry. They have not seen each other in years, since NJ disappeared with no explanation, and she now lives in the United States. NJ is shocked and hardly says a word while Sherry angrily asks him why he never showed up at their last appointment. Back at the wedding banquet, the child takes revenge over the girls.
The grandmother is found unconscious near the garbage dumps and taken to the hospital. Nobody knows why she walked downstairs (except for Ting Ting, who knows she forgots the other garbage bag). The family is reunited twice, from a wedding to an accident. NJ's wife Min-Min is unexceptional, NJ's brother A-Di is not very intelligent and he owes NJ some money. Ting Ting and Yang Yang, NJ's children, are both very good children. They are a typical middle-class family.
At school, Yang Yang has the same problems with the girls. Girls tease him, and he has to defend himself and retaliate when he can. One of the girls is called the "Concubine" because she is the favorite of the teacher (and maybe more than just a favorite).
Lili lives with her single mother, an executive, and plays cello. She is far more open than Ting Ting and far more expert in men. Her mother also has boyfriends.
NJ and A-Di are partners in a firm that desperately needs new ideas to survive. One possibility is to ally with the Japanese videogame wizard Ota.
A-Di sees Yun Yun one more time, but only to settle their finances.
Grandmother is moved back home but she is still unconscious. The doctor recommends that the family talk to her, so that her brain stays awake. So they take turns at talking to her, even if she can't reply. Ting Ting feels guilty because she forgot the garbage and thinks grandma does not want to wake up because she has not forgiven her.
Ting Ting is witness also to the breakup between Lili and Fatty and to Lili's mother promiscuous lifestyle.
NJ discusses business with Ota and finds him to be a wonderful man, a philosopher of sorts ("we never live the same day twice", "why aren't we afraid when we wake up in the morning?"). Ota can even play Beethoven at the piano.
NJ's wife has a nervous breakdown because she has nothing to tell her mother who is lying in a coma: the wife and mother realizes that her life is empty. She decides to spend some time in a Buddhist temple.
Yang Yang has taken on a new hobby: taking pictures of people, but only their back, because that's the part of themselves that they can't see. Girls still persecute him and the teacher still uses the Concubine to frame him. But he occasionally takes his revenge.
Lili has a new boyfriend and the old boyfriend, Fatty, uses Ting Ting to send her letters. Lili is indifferent to his letters and Ting Ting is annoyed of being used as a go-between.
A-Di is desperate for money and asks his old flame, Yun Yun, for help, and sleeps with her like in the old days.
Lili is outraged when she finds her mom in bed with her own teacher.
The baby is born and another event reunites the family, but Yun Yun spoils it by showing up uninvited again. This time A-Di's wife makes a scene and kicks her out. This originates a fight among the men. Later, A-Di collapses, although it looks like a suicide attempt.
NJ flies to Tokyo to meet with Ota. But also to meet with Sherry, who flies from the United States just to see him. Back in Taiwan, Lili's ex boyfriend is attracted to Ting Ting and invites her to a date. The two dates proceed in parallel. As NJ and Sherry reminesce their first date, Ting Ting and Fatty are carrying it out. One mirrors the other. Ting Ting is living the date that Sherry had with her father when she was young.
Yang Yang is also fascinated by a girl at school, whom he sees swim in the swimming pool. Back home, he practices holding his breath underwater in the bathroom sink.
NJ and Sherry sleep in separate rooms, though. Sherry is unhappy and still regrets that he left her. NJ admits that he never loved anyone else.
Ting Ting's date ends like Sherry's date with her father years before. Fatty takes a hotel room, Ting Ting is extremely shy and afraid, Fatty can't do it, and Ting Ting feels that Fatty doesn't really love her.
At dinner, Ota again mesmerizes NJ. He is a magician and a gentleman. But the partners call NJ to tell him that they decided to sign with a company that merely copycats Ota's products. NJ is outraged and ashamed, because Ota is a good man and his partners know no pride. NJ decides to quit. Sherry also left the hotel, without saying goodbye.
Back at home, NJ suffers a stroke in the kitchen. Yang Yang jumps in the swimming pool all dressed up and almost drowns. Ting Ting confronts Fatty and Fatty, visibly shaken, insults her.
Thanks to Yun Yun's help, the inept A-Di is finally able to pay back his debt to NJ.
The following day Ting Ting learns why Fatty was so insulting and upset: he is arrested for murdering Lili's lover. Fatty was having an affair with Lili's mother, too, not only with her daughter. When she found her in bed with another man, he killed her. Ting Ting is left heartbroken and traumatized. This is the "real life" that Fatty was talking about. Ting Ting still lives in a world of dreams (just like Sherry used to).
Ting Ting dreams that her grandmother finally woke up and gave her a flower. Instead, the old woman just died. But Ting Ting does hold in her hand the flower. Ting Ting feels that she has finally been forgiven.
The business with the copycat is a failure and the partners ask NJ back.
NJ's wife returns from the Buddhist temple. At the funeral, the family is reunited one more time.

Yang died in 2007 at the age of 59.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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