Yippee For 'Yi Yi'

Unless you are lucky enough to frequent film festivals around the world, the name Edward Yang will mean nothing to you. This Taiwanese writer-director is a world-class talent, yet until now none of his remarkable films have been commercially distributed in the United States. "Yi Yi," his seventh movie, is one of the year's best: a rich, funny, enormously humane portrait of a middle-class Taipei family in the throes of romantic, economic and spiritual upheaval. Three light-on-its-feet hours long, it starts with a wedding, ends with a funeral and in between captures what seems like a lifetime of experience.

In a high-rise apartment in boom-or-bust Taipei lives 45-year-old NJ (Wu Nienjen), a partner in a floundering computer company, and his wife, Min-Min (Elaine Jin), a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. On the day of her brother's wedding, Min-Min's mother has a stroke, and NJ runs into his childhood love, Sherry (Ke Suyun), now married to an American, whom he hasn't seen in 20 years. The couple has two children: the delicate teenager Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee), on the brink of her first love affair, and the precocious 8-year-old Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), a budding photographer who likes to take pictures of the back of people's heads (he explains that he's helping them see what they can't see themselves).

"Yi Yi" includes a murder, a suicide attempt, a business trip to Tokyo where NJ and Sherry rekindle their romance--and in the middle of it all the comatose granny, a silent sounding board for each family member's yearnings and demons. It could be the stuff of soap opera, but Yang (who won the best-director award in Cannes for "Yi Yi") takes the long view, transforming the ingredients of family melodrama into a serene, generous, comic vision of our tangled urban lives. Like his 8-year-old alter ego, Yang is helping us see what we can't see ourselves.