A One and a Two (Yi Yi) Review
:NJ is a worried man - the company he directs is threatening to go down the tube due to the economic downturn but closer to home his family has been thrown into turmoil with his mother-in-law having a stroke and entering a coma. His wife, Min-Min, has been devastated by this and has started to realise the futility of her existence. His daughter is going through a guilt-ridden adolescent rebellion and his young son Yang-Yang is being bullied at school due to his dreamy and inquisitive nature. To add icing to the cake, NJ happens to run in to his first true love at a wedding reception which sparks off another grand unpacking of emotions he had repressed since he was a teenager - only this time they seem to have gained in amplitude.
Set in Edward Yang's hometown of Taipei, the film masterfully interweaves the lives of the various members of the Jian family and their attempts to make sense of a world that has suddenly become quite alien to them. Although Yang's pacing of the storytelling is steady it can't really be said that it drags at all: despite almost running for three hours, Yang develops each character intricately and little by little reveals their innermost emotions and their lust for meaning. On the way he takes interesting looks at love, God, superstition, family breakdown, adolescence and death and how they're dealt with within this family. Although this could be described as "existentialist", the film avoids to navel-gaze too much and manages to pack enough surprises to keep the audience interested.
The film is also powerfully carried by the vivid acting - Nien-Jen Wu who portrays the troubled NJ, despite being a screenwriter by trade, manages to pull off his character admirably whilst Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) gives one of the best performances I've seen from an eight-year-old. The cinematography without being too flashy is incredibly effective with some very creative use of reflections throughout the film and, given the limitations of the locations, the director of photography should be commended for his performance.
With a little effort from the viewer the film will prove to be very rewarding and full of interesting observations making it worth while. Yi Yi deservedly managed to gain a wider audience mostly thanks to Yang winning the Palme d'Or for Best Director at Cannes in 2000 and numerous other prizes in the US. Definitely worth investigating for fans of international cinema.
The image:The print used is clean and virtually problem free. There are a few occurrences of white specks but that's as bad as it gets. The colours are incredibly vibrant and artifacting is kept to a minimum. As usual, on closer inspection some grain is visible in some of the darker scenes but that seems to be unavoidable. Despite the subtitles being transferred on top of the image, I'm pretty certain this was not a recycled theatrical reel (a la Tartan) but a low-contrast print for this transfer. An excellent transfer that one would like to see more often for foreign movies. Although both imdb.com and the DVD's cover claim that the film is 1.85:1 I found it to have been given an anamorphic transfer in 1.66:1. To be honest I suspect 1.66:1 is the correct aspect ratio as the image doesn't seem cropped at any point.
The sound:We get a clear 2.0 mix which is ample given that the film is heavily dialogue based. I noted one or two occurrences of delay between sound and image but these were hardly noticeable. No problems at all there.
The subtitles:These seem a little too small to be read comfortably. They did seem to have been electronically generated then transferred with the image which means that they can't be turned off and are part of the image. They are clearly visible against light backgrounds. The translation was mostly done by Yang himself so I suspect there's no major mistakes in them.
:These are quite nicely designed with excerpts from the film acting as menus and as transitions between them. The actors' filmographies are presented very stylishly - you can select the biography and filmography of the actor by selecting an outline of them from a group drawing. All in all everything has been well thought out and executed showing sensible design and ergonomics.
:Although films like this tend to get bare-bones releases, ICA projects have made a tremendous effort on this package by securing a commentary from Edward Yang. He appears alongside Tony Rayns (who also co-translated the subtitles with Yang) who prompts him and asks questions that are particularly pertinent to the Western audience who may be unfamiliar with Taiwanese culture. Although there are a few silences, Yang does talk throughout most of the film and offers some interesting insights into his filming, directing and casting. An excellent addition to the DVD as it does really offer an extra level of understanding that may have been lost on a Western audience.
Added to this we get the aforementioned crew and cast filmographies/biographies and the theatrical trailer. This is incredibly long (almost 4 minutes!) and features no dialogue or voiceover but picks out snippets from the film along to the soundtrack - although not telling the viewer much about the film it does manage to convey itself as quite an enigmatic and . This is presented in full-frame and is well transferred. To round the extras off we also get a small stills gallery that seem to be made up of the stills from the press pack.
Conclusions:ICA projects have really given the film the release it fully deserves and needs. Although the commentary is the sole notable extra, the entire DVD has been put together carefully and thoughtfully. An excellent release by ICA projects and one can only look forward expectantly to their coming releases.