Taiwanese director Edward Yang, whose 2000 film Yi Yi won the Best Director award at Cannes and Best Film from the National Society of Film Critics, died Friday in Beverly Hills of colon cancer. He was 59.
Yang's best-known film, Yi Yi, is an absorbing three-hour portrait of a middle-class Taipei family over the course of one year, as fathers, mothers, and children follow their hearts down long and complicated paths. A sumptuously shot masterpiece of everyday drama, Yi Yi treats with great seriousness nearly every aspect of contemporary city life: love, business, sex, religion, education, family ties — even traffic and murder. Written and directed by Yang, Yi Yi was the pinnacle to a career that saw the filmmaker lead a new wave of realist Taiwanese cinema — and was also, sadly, the final film of that career.
We still remember the experience of seeing Yi Yi for the first time, sitting on an uncomfortable bench in a museum while the film was projected on a small screen. We were so transported and moved that we never once noticed our aching ass and indeed returned to watch the film again two days later, dragging others along. So careful was the film's portrait of complicated, rich emotions that we left the movie saddened but joyful — feeling that not only had we understood Yang's characters profoundly but that we also knew ourselves better and had made a wise new friend in Yang as well.
Yi Yi ends with a funeral, at which a young boy stands before the altar and reads a farewell essay he wrote for the deceased. "Do you know what I want to do when I grow up?" he asks. "I want to tell people things they don't know and show them stuff they haven't seen." On the excellent Criterion Collection DVD of Yi Yi, critic Tony Rayns and Yang discuss this ending. "Sounds very much like the ambitions of a filmmaker," Rayns notes. "There are always things we don't know," Yang answers. "That's why we move forward."