Edward Yang

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8.0 That Day on the Beach (1983)
7.3 Taipei Story (1985)
7.2 The Terrorizers (1986)
6.8 A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
7.1 A Confucian Confusion (1995)
6.5 Mahjong (1996)
7.6 A One and a Two (2000)

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Taiwanese master Edward Yang, born in Shanghai in 1947 but raised in Taiwan since 1949, studied electrical engineering in Taiwan, got a masterís degree at the University of Florida in 1972, and worked at the University of Washington in Seattle before returning to Taiwan in 1981.

Yang was already 35 when he debuted directing a segment of Guang yin de gu shi/ In Our Time (1982), the anthology of shorts that was credited with launching the Taiwanese new wave,

He continued to dissect the lives of affluent city-dwellers on his Michelangelo Antonioni-influenced full-length debut, the three-hour Hai Tan de Yi Tian/ That Day on the Beach (1983), the first film shot by Christopher Doyle and starring the young Sylvia Chang, a realistic tragedy of ordinary people that projects a very pessimistic view of the human condition. Superficially, this is a family saga in reverse, a chronicle of a deteriorating marriage that is also the parable of a resurrected housewife. But it is a film drenched in melancholy, infinite melancholy. And the flashbacks, including flashbacks within flashbacks, dig so intensely into the psychology of the characters that the film becomes a chain of psychological portraits. Nobody is happy, nobody wins: everybody can only lose. It's like Orson Welles without the pomp. Yang's master trick is to turn the protagonist (what we initially think is the protagonist) into the listener: the film is about listening, not about acting. The friend she goes to meet turns out to be the protagonist of the story, the involuntary protagonist of a tragic story; and also the heroine. We never know much about the listener, other than she is a late witness to a tragedy that she totally missed. All those years she may have envied what she left behind, only to find out that she left behind sorrow and more sorrow. The friend who becomes the real protagonist, on the other hand, reversed her role, from happy counterpart to the pianist's sorrow (as it initially appears) to complex, tormented, worn-out counterpart to the pianist's relatively simple life.

A famous female pianist, Weiqing, nicknamed Ching-ching, has just arrived in town after 13 years of voluntary exile. A woman hears the news on the radio and immediatelly picks up the phone. The pianist is nervous. She is taken to the rehearsal space where a technician is tuning the piano for her. Her German assistant Birgit is trying to organize her day, but Ching-ching is disturbed after she is given a message from the hotel. A flashback shows Ching-ching as a teenager watching rugby game: she's in love with one of the kids, Jiasen. Jiasen is the brother of Ching-ching's best friend Jiali. Jia-sen and Jiali are children of a stern Japanese doctor who runs his own clinic and demands absolute obedience from his wife and children. Jiasen has been sent to study medicine so that he can join his father's business. The message that Ching-ching received was from Jiali, who wants to see her: they haven't met in 13 years. Ching-ching tells Birgit to cancel her appointments and runs to meet her old friend. Thus begins a lengthy conversation at a coffee shop, reminiscing the past and filling the blanks about each other's lives. A flashback shows that, after graduating, Jiasen was told by his father to marry the daughter of a friend. Jiasen was in love with Ching-ching but couldn't say no. Back to the present, we learn that Ching-ching left the country after the breakup and never wanted to come back. She knows nothing to what happened to her friends. Another flashback shows how Jiali got married. She hangs out with her best friend Hsin-hsin, who is the girlfriend of a rich spoiled kid, Ah-tsai, and thus Jiali met Ah-tsai's childhood friend Dewei: Ah-tsai is a confident and arrogant playboy, while Dewei is exactly the opposite, a shy and introverted kid. Dewei kissed her before he was drafted in the army. But Jiali's father has arranged a good marriage also for her. Her brother Jiasen regrets having obeyed his father and encourages Jiali to disobey. Jiali flees the house at night and reaches the poor apartment where Dewei lives with other kids. They got married with a humble wedding. Back to the present, Ching-ching invites Jiali to attend her performance with Dewei, but Jiali confesses that something happened between them three years earlier. Another flashback shows when she, now living in a nice apartment with a maid, received a phone call from the police that Dewei had drowned. She rushed to the beach and the cop told her that the body had not been found. The camera shows documentary-style interviews with fishermen who saw the man walk alone by the beach and then disappear. The cop found a bottle of psychiatric pills with Dewei's name on it. Hence the conclusion that Dewei drowned. Some men are searching the sea for his body. A flashback within this flashback shows Dewei at work and then at the same beach, happy with his wife Jiali. Their condition improved dramatically because Ah-tsai married a rich woman and used the money to start a company that did ver well. Ah-tsai hired Dewei as his right-arm man. One day Jiali ran into Hsin-hsin, her old high-school friend, who had not been as lucky: after countless boyfriends, she was still single, and one boyfriend left her with a child. At the same time Jiali's own wedding started unraveling because of Jiali's crazy work schedule. A simple misunderstanding helped a sexy colleague, the nasty Hsiao-hui, seduce Dewei. One day Jiali also saw him flirting with a woman in a telephone booth. Suspecting a love affair, Jiali went to look after Dewei when he was out of town, and this greatly embarrassed Dewei in front of his colleagues. Dewei got more and more impatient with Jiali's attitude, while Jiali got more and more frustrated with Dewei's indifference for her. Back to the beach flashback, the police try to get useful information from her, but she can only say that Dewei had disappeared since a few days. And back to the present in the coffee shop, Ching-ching is listening carefully to Jiali's story. A flashback continues Jiali's story. One day Ah-tsai sent Dewei abroad on a business trip. Jiali visited her friend Hsin-hsin, the single mother, now happily in love with a younger man. Hsin-hsin and her boyfriend took Jiali to a bar and a young man, Ping-ping, started flirting with her. Jiali, who had been a humble housewife, changed her hair to look more sexy and accepted a date with Ping-ping, a writer and world traveler. Jiali also visited her father, sick at the hospital. A humbled man, the father now lamented that his clinic was struggling, having to compete with big hospitals and not having the funds to buy expensive medical equipment.
The nasty seducer Hsiao-hui showed up to talk to her. Jiali then learned of Dewei's love affair with Hsiao-hui in the most grotesque manner: Dewei had sent a letter to each of them but switched the envelopes, and Hsiao-hui came to deliver the one addressed to Jiali. The lover also made a point of showing that she understood Dewei better than the wife. And, cynical and pragmatic, the lover admitted candidly that she had slept with several colleagues to advance her career. Jiali even thought of killing herself. Eventually she collapsed and was hospitalized. Hsin-hsin was her only remaining friend. Dewei returned and Jiali, still in the hospital bed, tried to convince him to recapture the magic of their early years, when they were poor. Jiali also received the surprise visit of her mom.
A flashback within the flashback shows the children Jiali and Jiasen listening to classical music while mother is serving tea to father. But the flashback also shows that this child Jiali saw her father touching his nurse and then the same girl saw her mom paying the nurse to leave town. Another flashback shows that her mom saw Jiali flees the house that night but didn't do anything to stop her. The two women do not exchange this information: only we see these two revelatory flashbacks.
Dewei got even busier with his work, and looked under even more pressure.
The flashback now moves forward to the day of the drowning. Jiali tells the cop that Dewei had disappeared for another trip. Ah-tsai shows up at the beach with worse news. Dewei was not on a business trip for him. Dewei disappeared with a lot of money. New flashback shows what Ah-tsai did when Jiali called him to tell him about Dewei's presumed drowning: Ah-tsai went to talk to the one who knew Dewei best, the evil seducer Hsiao-hui, now a successful manager, and Hsiao-hui candidly told him that Dewei betrayed his company. Ah-tsai just learned the hard way what a cynical scheming manipulator of men Hsiao-hui was. More importantly for Jiali, Hsiao-hui revealed that she was with Dewei at that beach one week earlier, and that Dewei threw away that bottle of psychiatric pills. That's why Ah-tsai doesn't believe that Dewei drowned: he believes that Dewei is abroad enjoying the money that he stole from the firm. Ah-tsai leaves Jiali alone at the beach, staring at the crew that is still looking for Dewei's body. Another flashback within this flashback shows her father's funeral, at which her brother tells her that the clinic is failing. Back to the beach, the crew has found something and the cop frantically calls Jiali, but she got up and started walking away, pretending not to see or hear, obviously not interested in finding out whether Dewei drowned or not: it doesn't make a difference for her. Back to the present in the coffee shop, Jiali receives a phone call for an urgent meeting. She has become a busineswoman herself. A final flashback shows that her brother Jiasen, the man Ching-ching loved, died of cancer. Ching-ching doesn't ask Jiali whether Dewei drowned or not, and we'll never know.

Qing Mei Zhu Ma/ Taipei Story (1985) is a realist melodrama that mixes film noir, nouvelle vague and Antonioni's gloomy existentialism. The lead female role is played by pop star Chin Tsai (later Yang's wife).

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 (a teenager who is in love with Chin, a boy whom Lon had humiliated) 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) is for about an hour a neurotic sequence of brief dissonant shots. It is at least four stories in one: there's the story of a detached photographer, a story in the style of Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup, there's the story of an alienated woman, there's the story of a dysfunctional kid, and there's the story (theoretically the main story) of an ambitious man who married the most popular girl and hopes to be promoted to manager but instead utterly fails in everything. The only problem is that several episodes in the plot are a bit implausible (for example, how the photographer connects the dots of the dysfunctional kid and the alienated woman, or how can the cop know so much about the women when he dreams of them).

A young photographer is in bed with his girlfriend who cannot sleep and it's almost dawn. There's a dead man in the street. We hear shots. Another woman, Yufen, wakes up, this time in a nice apartment. She is a writer who cannot finish her novel. Her husband Lizhong dresses up and leaves for work. Back to the shootout, there are cops looking for the thugs and the photographer is now in the street taking photos. The police chief Gu sends him away but he sees a thug and a girl jumping from a window and takes more pictures. The cops arrest the thug while the girl limps away. The girl faints in the street and is taken to the hospital. The cops raid the apartment. Lizhong arrives at the hospital and is informed by mournful colleagues that their boss has died of a stroke. They also gossip of an extramarital affair. Lizhong talks to the director of the hospital and advances his own candidacy to replace the dead manager. He does not hesitate to accuse his rival Jing of corruption. Meanwhile, the limping girl is taken home by her mother. Her mother, who was abandoned by the girl's father, is very angry and decides to lock her up in their apartment: obviously the kid has been in trouble before. Struggling writer Yufen meets an old boyfriend, Shen, who got divorced, and Shen offers her a stable job in his firm. The photographer's girlfriend erupts in fury and destroys his studio. He walks out and moves into the apartment raided by the police, which he turns into his dark room by blackening all the windows. His girlfriend takes pills to kill herself. Then we hear the limping girl leave a message to someone saying that she wants to kill herself, but she's not serious: it's a cruel joke. Yufen the writer destroys her notes and sleeps with her old boyfriend Shen. Yufen tells Shen that her novel is about her marriage. Back at home she cries and hugs her husband. The limping girl, still locked in the apartment by her mom, makes a random call and it happens to be the doctor's house. Yufen picks up and the limping girl speaks as if she were the husband's lover and sends Yufen to the address where she used to live, the apartment where the photographer now lives. Yufen rings the bell but, when she sees the photographer, she runs away without saying anything. Then she disappears for a few days. The doctor asks chief Gu for help: they are old friends and Gu remembers that everybody was surprised when Yufen decided to marry Lizhong. When she reappears, she simply tells Lizhong that she went to a quiet place to finish the novel. But she also tells him that she's moving out, that she has decided to quit writing and that she has accepted Shen's job. She mentions the trauma of losing her baby as one of the things that caused her neurosis. The limping girl takes advantage that her mom fell asleep to walk out of the apartment. She goes dancing and picks up a man. While he is in the bathroom, she steals his wallet, but he catches her: she pulls out a knife and stabs him before running away. She sleeps in a bus and then walks back to her old apartment. She still has the key: when she opens the door, the first thing she sees is a giant photograph of herself, because the photographer has been obsessed with her face ever since taking that picture. She faints. When she wakes up the photographer tells her how he ended up with her picture (and that he was the one who called the ambulance for her). They make love. When he falls asleep, she sneaks out with his cameras and tries to sell them. But then she has second thoughts and returns them. The photographer, broke, moves back to his rich father's villa and gets back with his girlfriend, who obviously did not die. Meanwhile, Lizhong is still counting on a promotion to manager, but the hospital's director is worried about rumors that his wife dumped him: Lizhong denies it. Yufen, who now works in Shen's office, is notified that her novel has won the top literary prize. She is interviewed on television and the story is published in newspapers: her novel is about a woman who receives a phone call, realizes that her husband cheated on her, leaves him, and then the husband kills her and kills himself. The photographer reads it, recognizes her face, and connects the dots: she (Yufen) thought that her husband was cheating on her after receiving the limping girl's random call. The photographer calls Lizhong and explains to him the whole story. The doctor wants his wife back but she doesn't want him even after hearing the explanation: obviously she left him not only because of the suspicion that he cheated on her. Meanwhile, the limping girl and a boy have come up with a new scam: she draws man in a room and then the boy shows up prentending to be her brother and claiming she's underage and blackmails the man. The doctor is further depressed by the news that the hospital's director has picked his rival as manager. Lizhong goes crazy: he visits his old friend the cop Gu and announces that he did get the promotion. Gu falls asleep, Lizhong takes his gun, Lizhong finds and kills the director, Lizhong breaks into Shen's apartment and kills Shen but cannot kill Yufen, and finally Lizhong meets the limping girl who drags him into a room with her boyfriend waiting outside for the usual ploy, but he is so nervous that she pulls out her knife and just then the cop arrives but it's too late to stop Lizhong from shooting her... A loud shot wakes up Gu: this was all a dream. The only shot was the one that woke him up: Lizhong has killed himself. At the same time Yufen wakes up and throws up, as if she had a nightmare: maybe it was her dream, not the cop's dream.

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 and listen to rock music. His only historical epic, it is partly autobiographical. The saga moves at a very slow pace, with little passion and little action. Likewise, the visual style is also a little flat. Yang tries to replicate the oppressive and suffocating atmosphere of the era, when martial law was still in place and the government was persecuting dissindents.

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 an aspiring teacher and their future father a humble peasant, and how they first 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, drawing Sly into it. Sly takes his revenge on Tiger, a basketball fan who hates him. Shandong's gang 217 searches the high school for Tiger after learning that he went out again with Ming, and Sir has to jump out of the window. The gang then turns on Sir, who is also involved with Ming, but new kid Ma, who in the past killed someone, comes to his rescue. Later Ma shows them a sword left behind in his house by the Japanese general who used to live there. 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 during a rainy night. During the same night, Sir's father is arrested by the police, suspected of being a member of the communist party. After Honey's death, Ming falls sick and disappears for a few days. When she returns to school, Sir pledges to be a good friend to her. They soon become lovers, but Sir is repulsed when Ming confesses multiple relationships, including one with his mother's doctor, Sir is becoming increasingly closer to Ma at the same time that he is becoming a rebel. His father, released by the police, begs the school's principal to forgive Sir, but Sir instead reacts viciously to his father's humiliation and gets expelled. Sir, eager to console his father, begins studying to get admitted to another school, even if this means less time for Ming.

Ming's mother, now jobless, is hire by Ma's parents. Mother and daughter move in with Ma's family. Ming and Ma become close friends. Sir suspects that Ming cheats on him with Ma, and confronts Ma. One evening the jealous Sir decides to attack Ma with a knife stolen from Cat, but instead meets Ming. They get into a heated argument and he stabs her to death.

Du Li Shi Dai/ The Age of Independence/ A Confucian Confusion (1995) is about the collision between ancient Chinese beliefs and the greedy ethos of Taiwan's economic boom. After a verbose and chaotic beginning, the film turns into a labirynthine saga in the vein of soap operas: everybody is scheming, evil, hypocritical, and unhappy, except the writer, Qiqi and Akeem. One is crazy, one is naive and the third one is an idiot. The plot (and the acting) consistently straddles the border between tragedy and comedy. Some scenes are inspired by screwball comedy (mostly, the ones about the play, but also when the writer hits the taxi), some are philosophical and existential in nature, and some are family melodrama.

A wild playwright, Birdy, is rehearsing his new avantgarde play, skating around the actors while he lectures them. Birdy then visits the office of a public-relationship firm in a high-rise building. He is a celebrity and a friend of the firm's managers, Molly and her sister. Molly's sister is married to a writer and the press claims that Birdy's new play is plagiarizing a novel by that writer. Birdy, whose only excuse is that in the old days nobody cared about copyrights, is now scared that this writer will sue him. Molly's sister promises that this won't happen and charges Molly with talking to the writer, but the writer doesn't talk to Molly anymore after Molly criticized his new book, "A Confucian Confusion", as too serious. The writer used to be famous for best-selling love stories. So Molly has charged her secretary Qiqi with obtaining from the writer a signed declaration releasing the rights on the work plagiarized by Birdy. Qiqi has been busy and told newly-hired Feng to do it but now Molly tells Qiqi how urgent and important it is. Molly also confirms Qiqi's suspicion that the writer is no longer living with his wife, Molly's sister, but asks Qiqi to keep it confidential. Qiqi has been busy because the firm is laying off workers, while Feng had nothing to do. Molly's sister tells Molly that people are gossiping about her and Birdy, but Molly replies that they are just old friends from school. Molly is engaged to the firm's owner, the wealthy Akeem, who is traveling abroad, and Molly's sister is worried that Akeem will hear the gossips. Everybody loves Mollyís humble assistant Qiqi, who is engaged to another classmate of Molly's, the honest hard-working civil servant Ming, whose father was disgraced by an embezzlement scandal. The writer has refused to sign the copyright release when Feng went ask him, so now Qiqi decides to do it herself. Before she can, her aunt shows up at the office and tells her to organize a dinner with Ming's father: she want to discuss a new job opportunity for Qiqi. Molly and Qiqi are good friends, and Qiqi doesn't mention the new job offer during a lunch together. One of the top managers in the firm is the womanizer Larry, a close friend of Akeem. Molly tells Qiqi that Feng was hired because Larry wanted it, and Larry is now trying to seduce Qiqi. Larry schemes behind everybody's back. He tells Molly that her tenure at the firm is a failure, and she replies that Akeem should invest more money. Larry is trying to seduce her too. Just then Akeem calls that he has returned home and tells Larry not to tell Molly, who is sitting in front of him, and of course Molly overhears. Molly, disgusted by the meeting with Larry, decides to fire his protegee Feng. Qiqi advises Feng to audition for Birdy's play. Meanwhile, Ming asks his colleague Liren the favor to hide the debts of a man who is almost bankrupt. Akeem heard rumors that Molly is having an affair and claims that he doesn't care because their engagement is purely formal and leaves both some freedom. Larry tells Akeem that his wife is away on a shopping trip. Nonetheless, the married Larry flirts with every woman in the firm. Molly decides to accept a date with him and takes him for a drive in her coupe; but her goal is to tell Larry that she fired Feng and humiliate him. Liren, who is another womanizer, but single, meets Feng after walking Ming to his dinner appointment with Qiqi. Qiqi is honestly trying to help Feng get over the firing. Ming is hostile to both his father (whose wife divorced him twenty years earlier) and his aunt, but he does think that the new job opportunity is great for Qiqi. Qiqi, however, cannot betray her friend Molly now that the company is a mess. Ming and Qiqi have a big argument in a taxi. He also hates the two sisters, who are hypocritical, and their firm, that sells stupid soap-operas to the masses. There's bad blood between Ming and Molly because one day Qiqi was upset with Ming and she stayed at Molly's place, and then Ming threatened to hit Molly. Qiqi lives with humble parents who are proud of the TV commercial she shot at the firm. Ming lives with his humble mother and a crazy uncle who plays with model airplanes and dates young girls. Larry picks up a drunk Akeem from a party. Contrary to what he claimed, Akeem is suffering because he thinks Molly is cheating on him. Larry tells Akeem that it was a mistake to give her money to run the firm and talks Akeem into punishing Molly at the company. And promises to find out who is trying to date Molly (which would be him himself). Molly tells Qiqi that her sister was once engaged to Akeem but then she fell in love with the writer, and their rich father settled on Molly as a replacement to marry Akeem. Lirem invites Ming to join him at the dance club where he is kissing Feng, and Ming reminds him the case of the bankrupt businessman. Lirem promises to tamper with the financial records. Ming finds Feng crying outside the pub and tries to console her. Feng invites him over to her place and Ming accepts, but then Feng simply shoves him into a taxi (she tested hi loyalty to Qiqi?) Larry is waiting for Feng. Feng knows that Larry has been flirting with Molly and Larry's denials are awkward. Feng doesn't seem hurt, she simply warns him that Molly will outsmart him. Feng tells Larry that Molly is having an affair with Birdy, and Larry almost chokes. Feng suggests that Larry starts a rumor about Molly to destroy her credibility. While everybody is asleep, Qiqi and Molly chat like lesbian lovers in a garden, and Qiqi complains that Molly no longer confides in her like in the old days. FInally, Molly and Akeem meet in his villa. Akeem tries to implement Larry's scheme, but then backs out from closing the firm. Molly is indifferent to a wedding day. She is perfectly fine with the current arrangement: no love, just a marriage of convenience. The spoiled but fragile Akeem, instead, seems to desire some real love. Qiqi walks into the writer's apartment, trying to get him to sign the agreement for Birdy's play, but the writer kicks her out, accusing her of using her innocent smile to get what she wants. Ming tries to make peace with Molly at a lunch, but hurts her when he mentions that Qiqi has been offered a new job: Qiqi kept it secret from Molly. Larry, disappointed that Akeem didn't follow his advice to cut off funding to Molly's firm, tells him that Molly is having an affair with Birdy. Birdy is being interviewed live on television by Mollyís elder sister, who is the host of a top-rated talk-show. Molly shows up to tease Birdy. Akeem catches them together and chases Birdy all over the stage while the crew is filming. Molly blames her sister's decision to marry the writer for causing all their problems: Molly has to marry a man she doesn't love, her sister is divorcing, the firm is failing, and everybody is hurt. Ming's boss finds out that Liren has altered the records and fires him: now Liren is in big trouble, and may end up in jail, and all because he wanted to do Ming a favor. Ming confesses to their boss that it was his idea to help the bankrupt man, but the boss is not interested in justice. Qiqi is also furious at him because he screamed at her to choose between him and Molly: she walks out without replying. Ming lost his fiance and his best friend. Birdy is skating around the actors during a rehearsal of his play when Feng shows up for the audition: Birdy is always happy to hire a new sexy actress. A depressed Qiqi visits the writer again, this time just because she feels lonely and misunderstood. The writer shows her the novel that was rejected, "A Confucian Confusion", and tells her the plot (that seems to mirror Qiqi's life): Confucius, reincarnated in modern Taiwan, is initially admired for his sincerity but then suspected of hypocrisy. Molly's sister arrives and finds Qiqi reading her husband's books the same way that she, as a young classmate, was reading them when she fell in love with him. She tells her husband that his new serious books hurt her because he seems to want to lead readers to desperation. But the writer points out that their stories show their different souls: she runs TV shows that are all about superficial vanity, he writes books that are about deep existential problems. She accuses him of behaving like a reincarnated Confucius and tells him to kill himself. But she still loves him. Molly interrupts Birdy just when Birdy is seducing Feng, and takes him for a night ride in her coupe, just because she's lonely and wants to vent her frustration to an old friend. They come back yelling at each other, just when Akeem has parked in front of Birdy's place. Birdy is terrified that Akeem might misunderstand the situation, but instead Akeem has come to apologize and make peace: they become friends. Meanwhile, Larry has found Feng in Birdy's studio and is furious. Molly is still angry at Ming (now both have lost Qiqi). They fight in a dark alley but end up in bed. Molly tries in vain to make Ming say that he loves her: he rambles on but doesn't say it. Meanwhile, the writer is having a major crisis and is contemplating suicide. He comes back to tell Qiqi that she's the only one who understands him and he's the only one who understands her. Qiqi, scared, runs away. The writer starts running after her taxi. Qiqi tells the taxi driver to stop and the writer is running so fast that he hits the taxi. The accident triggers enlightenment in the writer who gets up a different man, determined to rewrite his books in a less tragic and more hopeful tone. At the end of that very long night, Qiqi walks back into Molly's office and finds her there: Molly, who has just slept with Qiqi's husband, hugs Qiqi pretending to still be her best friend. Akeem shows up to tell Molly that he wants to break up which is exactly what Molly was about to tell him. Molly also wants to quit from his company. Akeem tells her that he is in love with Birdy's cleaning lady and that he wants to become an artist himself. Qiqi gets a call that Ming's father has had a heart attack. She reaches the hospital where Ming is desperately trying to see his father one last time: his father had the heart attack after Ming refused to see him. Qiqi and Ming discuss their breakup, then they part. But then Ming in the elevator decides to walk back to her and, when he opens the door, he finds that she walked back to him.

Mahjong (1996) is a screwball comedy, or, better, a nonsensical gangster movie, but way too long and convoluted.

The titles inform us that a rich businessman has disappeared and that he owes a lot of money to the mob. One night two punks on a pick-up truck deliberately hit a car that is parked outside a night-club Inside the hair-dresser Jay introduces his new friend Hong Kong to some of his Western friends: Ginger, who ten years earlier was just a show girl and she and got rich with her escort service, Marcus, a British interior designer who was bankrupt before he met his girlfriend Alison, the daughter of a rich man. Marcus' friend David brings a French teenager, Marthe, to his table, a woman who came all the way from Paris to find him. Marcus is annoyed that this former girlfriend has tracked him down, and has a few words with David, leaving the ladies alone. Ginger thinks that the pretty Marthe has potential and gives her her business card. Meanwhile, a drunk Jay meets a new friend, Lunlun, one of the thugs of the pick-up. Then he walks outside and finds out that his car has been vandalized (it's the car of the first scene). Meanwhile, the two thugs, Red Fish and Lunlun, have decided to help Marthe find a hotel room and Red Fish even pays for it. Marcus comes to see her and they sleep together, but then they break up again. Alison has left Marcus and went home with Hong Kong only to find out that Hong Kong shares not only an apartment but also his girls with his three housemates, which include Red Fish, Lunlun and a horny Little Buddha. Red Fish calls his mom and finds out that gangsters came to threaten her in their villa. Red Fish is the son of the missing businessman and her mom knows that he owes money to the mob. She blames a woman named Angela who swindled them ten years earlier. Red Fish tells Lunlun that he wants to take revenge on this Angela. Meanwhile, two sinister fellows in an expensive car have started following Red Fish: they are sent by the mob to track down his father. Red Fish and Lunlun bring Marthe home, pretending to help here save money. Marthe is eager to find a job but Red Fish warns her against calling Ginger. All the communications have to be translated by Lunlun, the only one who speaks English. Later Red Fish explains to his cohorts that he plans to sell Marthe to Ginger for a lot of money. Red Fish meets Qiu, an old friend of his father, at Jay's shop. Qiu is the businessman who protects Angela. Red Fish instructs Lunlun to seduce her. A stranger calls Red Fish and tells him where he can find his father. Red Fish is angry at the old man who never cared for him. Hi father reiterates that Angela stole all his money, and then he stole money to get rich. The boy is ready to help him but the father now wants to just enjoy life with his younger lover, a meek schoolteacher. Red Fish offers Marthe to Ginger, but Lunlun warns her that it's about escort service, i.e. a form of prostitution. Marthe realizes that she cannot stay there anymore, and Lunlun hides her in a secret room of his father's guesthouse, which is popular with foreign students. Hong Kong got rid of Alison, who is in love with him after just one day, and seduces Angela. Hong Kong and Red Fish introduce Angela to Little Buddha, who pretends to be a fortune-telling monk. Little Buddha predicts a car accident that sure enough happens (courtesy of Lunlun who jumps in front of a garbage truck). Now that he has Angela's trust, Little Buddha tells her that the apartment in which she lives, bought by Qiu for her, is haunted by ghosts. She believes him and moves out. Alison is still very much in love with Hong Kong even though she knows that he is having an affair with an older woman, even if he made her sleep with all of his housemates, even if Marcus wants her back. The two dumb gangsters looking for Red Fish mistake Lunlun for him and kidnap both Lunlun and Marthe. Hong Kong is expecting Angela but instead a friend of hers show up: Angela told her how good a lover heis and now she wants some too. Angela herself brings another girlfriend who wants to try sex with him. One of the gangsters is watching Lunlun and Marthe on a rooftop. Marthe frees herself and grabs his gun just when his accomplice calls to tell him that they kidnapped the wrong man. Lunlun and Marthe deliver the gangster to Red Fish, who tortures him to call the other gangster. Red Fish actually wants to bring them to his father. Red Fish forgives Lunlun for hiding Marthe. Red Fish, Lunlun and Marthe escort the two gangsters to his father's hiding place only to find the old man dead: he and his schoolteacher lover committed suicide. They call the cops. The cops detain Marthe, who doesn't have a place to stay. Marcus comes to rescue her. Marthe leaves the shy Lunlun. Lunlun is heartbroken and Hong Kong, humiliated by Angela, has a nervous breakdown. Qiu calls Red Fish. The truth is that Qiu gave Angela the apartment because he owes her a lot of money. Now that Little Buddha scared away, he (Qiu) is in trouble. But he has an idea to exploit the Little Buddha scam to make money and wants Red Fish as a partner. Red Fish gets angry at the proposal, probably because he sees his father in Qiu. Qiu insists and even begs, but the result is to really infuriate Red Fish, who pulls out the gun and starts shooting him. Qiu begs not to kill him because he wants to see his son one more time, and again Red Fish sees his father in this selfish and failed businessman. Red Fish accuses him of having teamed up with Angela to ruin his father but Qiu tells him that his Angela is not "that" Angela: Red Fish has been trying to take revenge on someone who had nothing to do with his father. This makes Red Fish even angrier and he shoots Qiu dead. Then Red Fish breaks down and almost kills himself. Lunlun has had enough and Little Buddha tries in vain to convince him to stay: Lunlun leaves his friends and walks into his father's guesthouse. They tell him that Marthe was looking for him. He runs in the crowded streets looking for her. In fact, she has broken up definitely with Marcus. They finally meet and kiss.

The three-hour existential comedy Yi Yi/ A One and a Two (2000) is at the same time a fresco of Taiwanese society through the interwined lives of three generations, and a bitter meditation on the meaning of life, overloaded with philosophical observations. The film debuted two children nonprofessional actors: Kelly Lee and Jonathan Chang.
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` shows 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-in-law 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 his former fiance 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, back home, 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 too is fascinated by a girl at school, whom he sees swimming in the swimming pool: she is the Concubine. 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 (an English teacher who was having an affair with both Lili and her mother). 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 having completed only seven films.