Yi Yi – The Criterion Collection #339 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 7, 2011 by Dennis Amith
If there is one film that embodies life and death so beautifully, “Yi Yi” is that film. Edward Yang’s masterpiece is highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1999 1+2 Seisaku linkai. 2010 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Yi Yi – The Criterion Collection #339
YEAR OF FILM: 2000
DURATION: 173 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), 2.0 Surround in Mandarin with English Subtitles
COMPANY: THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: March 15, 2011
Directed by Edward Yang
Written by Edward Yang
Associate Produced by Shin’ya Kawai, Osamu Kunota, Naoko Tsukeda, Wei-yen Yu
Assistant Producer: Yoshiko Okura, Michiyo Sato
Music by Kai-Li Peng
Cinematography by Wei-han Yang
Edited by Bo-Wen Chen
Production Design by Peng
Nien-Jen Wu as N.J.
Elaine Jin as Min-Min
Issei Ogata as Ota
Kelly Lee as Ting-Ting
Jonathan Chang as Yang-YAng
Hsi-Sheng Chen as Ah-Di
Su-Yun Ko as Sherry
Shu-shen Hisao as Hsiao Yen
Adrienne Lin as Li-Li
Pang Chang Yu as Fatty
Ru-Yun Tang as NJ’s Mother
Hsin-Yi Tseng as Yun-Yun
The extraordinary, internationally embraced Yi Yi (A One and a Two . . .), directed by the late Taiwanese master Edward Yang, follows a middle-class family in Taipei over the course of one year, beginning with a wedding and ending with a funeral. Whether chronicling middle-age father NJ’s tentative flirtations with an old flame or precocious young son Yang-Yang’s attempts at capturing reality with his beloved camera, the filmmaker deftly imbues every gorgeous frame with a compassionate clarity. Warm, sprawling, and dazzling, this intimate epic is one of the undisputed masterworks of the new century.
In Taiwan, filmmaker Edward Yang is one of the highly revered filmmakers known for his part in the new Taiwan cinema movement and he is also a filmmaker who passed at a young age. Having created wonderful films such as “A Brighter Summer Day”, “Taipei Story”, “A Confucian Confusion” and “Mahjong”, it is his final feature length film “Yi Yi” that continues to capture the hearts of cineaste worldwide.
The 2000 film earned Yang a “Best Director” award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for a P’alme d’Or and a multi-award winning film worldwide. Even earning the distinction of British film magazine “Sight and Sound” as one of the “Ten Greatest Films in the Past 25 Years”.
“Yi Yi” is a film that focuses around a Taipei Jian family coming from three perspectives. One from husband and father NJ (played by Nien-Jen Wu), the second from his young son Yang-Yang (played by Jonathan Chang) and the other is his teenage daughter Ting-Ting (played by Kelly Lee).
The film begins with a wedding ceremony for NJ’s younger brother Ah-Di, a man who was dating a businesswoman but got a young woman pregnant and so he is getting married. Ah-Di owes his brother NJ money but NJ is in no hurry to collect it, knowing that his brother probably will not pay it off in time. We see Ah-Di’s ex-girlfriend come to pay a visit and apologize to NJ’s mother-in-law, an older woman and to show her disatisfaction that Ah-Di got another woman pregnant and is marrying her instead.
NJ’s mother-in-law is not feeling well, so she is taken back home and later collapses. For NJ’s grandmother, her hospitalization effects the family as NJ’s wife realizes how much her mother is important to the family. As for Ting-Ting, she was always close to her grandmother and is often by her side. For little Yang-Yang, he doesn’t understand quite well of what is going on but he is not a talkative person and rarely communicated with his grandmother.
But despite the health of NJ’s mother-in-law, the wife Min-Min (played by Elaine Jin) insists in staying at the hospital, meanwhile NJ and his son Yang-Yang attends Ah-Di’s wedding at the hotel. And NJ runs into his ex-girlfriend Sherry (played by Su-Yun Ko), a professional who right off the bat asks what happened to him as he just disappeared from their relationship. Before they can talk, they are disrupted and life continues the following morning.
This is where the story showcases the three family members. As NJ’s wife leaves for a Bhuddist Retreat after having a midlife crisis, she takes off while NJ takes care of the kids. For NJ, he works at a company in which they are trying to build a partnership for Japanese video game company. So, his boss, wants him to meet the Japanese employees and build a relationship but he knows that his company, specifically his boss, only cares about the money. Interesting enough, when NJ meets the Japanese software boss, Ota (played by Issei Ogata), he is surprised that Ota talks to him only in English but he realizes how this man is quite honest and good-natured, very different from the type of people he is used to working with. Meanwhile, because he has to go to Japan and do business, his ex-girlfriend Sherry is going as well. So, the trip to Japan will be an intriguing experience for NJ as he resolves the past with his ex, while preparing for the future with his potential new business partner, Ota.
For Ting-Ting, she is very close to her grandmother and often visits her. At the same time, each time she goes out to her apartment balcony, she sees her best friend together with a young man named Fatty. She is intrigued by their romance but quickly sees it diminish and soon after, seeing her with another guy. As for Fatty, he uses Ting-Ting as a go-between to send messages to his ex-girlfriend but during the process, both Ting-Ting and Fatty become closer and eventually setting up her first date together with him. But being inexperienced as she is, can she have a nurturing relationship with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend?
As for the younger son, Yang-Yang, he is often the boy that tends to be a little mischievous and gets into trouble at school. He is often seen playing tricks on girls but the truth is, it’s because he gets ganged up by them and they play practical jokes on him. But his father has given him a film camera and told him to take pictures to document mosquitoes exist in the hallways of their house and to also document other things with his camera. Taking pictures becomes a passion for Yang-Yang, but the problem is that he will leave school during class to pick up film for his camera (not knowing the school has cameras everywhere). For Yang-Yang, he then starts to develop a passion for taking pictures of the back of people’s heads.
“Yi Yi” is a film that begins with a wedding, ends with a funeral but eloquently shows us life changing moments for these three individuals. In director’s Edward Yang’s words, “Yi Yi” is a film about life, portrayed across a spectrum of its span. “Yi Yi” which means “one one” or “individually”, is a film’s portrayal of life through each individual member.
“Yi Yi” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). And first let me preface with how much this film’s beautiful cinematography has struck a chord within me. Watching it years ago and then watching it now on Blu-ray, from the tracking shots as NJ is riding in the car and we see the buildings go by, to the shots of NJ eating at burger joint with his song Yang-Yang, the shot of NJ sitting at the corner as you see the city from the windows or scenes where people are walking and there is perfect symmetry with the trees and the people. By typing this, it may not seem right because “Yi Yi” is one of those films that has to be viewed, watched and simply letting the moving images capture you.
Wei-han Yang does a wonderful job in capturing the location, the angles that Edward Yang has in his mind. “Yi Yi” is a visual masterpiece as it manages to capture life for a family and its surroundings are presented in great care, great harmony and I was left wanting to watch it again because the film captures life and death so beautifully.
With that said, “Yi Yi”, according to the Criterion Collection, features a digital transfer created from a Spirit 4K Datacine from a 35mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
The Blu-ray does look much better than its DVD counterpart as expected, with more detail that can be seen in objects, clarity during outdoor sequences. There was one scene that had some artifacts but it’s only a few seconds long. I asked another fellow reviewer if he saw it and was told that it may be due to the DVNR correction but other than that, picture quality for the film is very good and a solid improvement over the 2006 Criterion Collection DVD release.
Considering that around world, there have been some really bad print transfers of the film, this Blu-ray release of “Yi Yi” is still a very good release and I saw no other blemishes and for the most part, fans of “Yi Yi” should be happy with this release because if you thought the film’s cinematography looked incredible, it helps to have in HD to see more of the details of the film.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Yi Yi” is presented in Mandarin 2.0 Surround. Dialogue is clear and I actually preferred to watch this film with stereo on all channels and setting that on my receiver for a more immersive soundtrack. as one of my favorite scenes was with NJ being affected when he hears his Japanese associate playing “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano. But overall, dialogue is crystal clear.
According to the Criterion Collection, the 2.0 surround soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the original 2-track left and right magnetic master. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated audio workstation.
Subtitles are in English.
“Yi Yi – The Criterion Collection #339” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Audio commentary by writer/director Edward Yang and Asian-cinema critic Tony Rayns. While Tony Rayns talks about the context of the film, Edward Yang explains to viewers certain situations, especially situations that were taking place during that time period that he shot the film. Also, both discuss certain scenes in which would be uncommon in Taiwanese culture but looked differently from a Western perspective. A wonderful audio commentary.
- Toni Rayns – (15:18) An enjoyable and intriguing featurette in which Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns discusses the New Taiwan cinema movement and talks about the industry, the emergence of Edward Yang and Hsiao-hsien Hou and its similarity and differences from Nouvelle Vague.
- Trailer – (1:52) The theatrical trailer for “Yi Yi”.
Included is a 22-page booklet featuring “Time and Space” by Kent Jones (essay was originally on the Criterion Collection 2006 DVD release) and “Notes from Edward Yang” on the title and on casting.
“Yi Yi” is a film that if you look online to read of what cineaste have posted, you will find those who see the film as a masterpiece and visually magnificent. You will also read messages from those who feel the 173 was way too much for them and that the film was too mundane. Needless to say, its a film that depends on the viewer.
But if you are a viewer who searches deeply for cinema that is clear from the typical banality of contrived storylines about family issues, then “Yi Yi” is a film that you will truly enjoy. For me, almost similar to how Yasuhiro Ozu has captured me with his oeuvre, Edward Yang’s “Yi Yi” resonated with me quite strongly because the screenplay felt natural. As if you knew these characters and know these issues can happen to anyone. It’s also because of casting, where Yang trusted his actor Nien-Jen Wu to play the father/husband NJ, he hired unknowns who don’t have an acting background, so they gave a performance that felt natural, nor overacted.
While Ting-Ting embodies the teenager discovering romance, Yang-Yang shows us innocent and mischievous behavior, but yet you feel like rooting for him because he is typically a kid that is constantly picked on.
Combine this with cinematography from Wei-han Yang and the directorial brain of Edward Yang and this collaboration brings us an artistic style that truly touches your soul. There is no doubt that Edward Yang has a great eye and his films do exhibit an Antonioni-esque style when it comes to presentation. But his writing, call it existential cinema, does bring an ethereal quality to it. But unlike Antonioni films, Yang’s “Yi Yi” is a bit more accessible to the non-critical viewer. It is easy to follow but it depends what you are following.
As for the Blu-ray release, the same special features that were included on the 2006 DVD release, does make its way back for the Blu-ray release. But as mentioned before, this is the best looking version of “Yi Yi” yet. This release has had not-so-great transfer from Winstar and Starmax and this Blu-ray looks much better than its 2006 Criterion DVD counterpart. But I also find Criterion Collection’s “Yi Yi” quite special because of its audio commentary and the fact that it was recorded and released a year before Wang’s death. So, I’m so grateful that we do get this audio commentary featuring Edward Yang.
Overall, the efficacy of “Yi Yi” is one’s ability to understand the story and how Yang is able to capture the beauty, the sadness of life and death through his film. But to also see what you get out of the film’s magnificent cinematography. Structured shots, Yang’s use of balance but yet capturing the feel of Taipei through its various shots and in someways capturing the feel of a growing metropolis and in someways reminding me of Jacques Tati’s “Playtime” which says goodbye to the old, ushering in the new. But all one can do is move forward.
If you have never watched or owned “Yi Yi” before, and if you have and thoroughly enjoyed it, then I highly recommend this film. It’s definitely a must-own Criterion Collection release!
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