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Heroes of the Zeroes: Yi Yi (A One and a Two)

by on December 12, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Yi Yi (A One and a Two)”
Rated R

Translated from Chinese, “yi yi” means “one-one.” Applied to 2000’s “Yi Yi (A One and a Two)”, it hardly expressed equivalency.

The subtitle of late Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s last film helped: It’s the graphology notion that a Chinese character for “one” can also mean “two,” or, in life, how two people differently interpret the same circumstance. So it goes for those satisfied, or dissatisfied, with their station as “Yi Yi” opens.

So much of life offers small returns on small risks; it’s no wonder, for better or worse, gambling instincts occasionally surface. Relatable is this itch — spread across a Taiwan family’s familial, social, parental, marital and business connections — to reach out for what we’ve loved, set free and had come back, perhaps still not meant to be: jobs, lovers, freedoms, opportunities.

What’s introduced in “Yi Yi’s” first 15 minutes is stunningly sustained for 158 more via harmoniously scripted, directed and acted discourse. A thematic twin to “Synecdoche, New York” and “The Best of Youth,” “Yi Yi” blends the Coens’ karmic rubicons with Robert Altman’s ensemble heart.

Yang films much of “Yi Yi” through storefront and high-rise windows, emphasizing Taiwan’s alluring sprawl and embedding a metaphor for the Jians’ skewed reflections on long-abandoned paths.

Muddied by memory, we can’t ever truly see the past behind us — delicately intoned by Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), the youngest, possibly wisest, Jian. Accept no cheap imitation of life, says this empathetic, enriching, engrossing epic in which delight and distress reside together in the same heart.

Here’s the first 10 minutes of the film, as posted on YouTube: