“We live three times as long since man invented movies.”

First movie watched in 2017. Interweaving life stories of family members during the year grandma spent in a coma, with mirrors of behaviors and situations across generations.

NJ and daughter Ting-Ting with the happy couple:

NJ is Nien-Jen Wu (cowrote Hou Hsiao-Hsien films including City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster). He’s a reasonable, middle-aged, frowny-faced guy disillusioned with his job. He bumps into an ex, Sherry, at the wedding, then arranges to meet her in Japan while courting software developer Ota (Issei Ogata, the emperor in The Sun) for work. Having casual conversations with Ota about music and spending his days with Sherry (Su-Yun Ko also played a lead male character’s Tokyo ex in Taipei Story) gives him nostalgia flashbacks of first love, while his daughter Ting-Ting is home dealing with similar issues firsthand.

Ting-Ting starts the movie feeling guilty that she might be responsible for grandma’s stroke, and soon adds more typical teenage problems into the mix, as she picks up her new neighbor Lili’s barely-ex-boyfriend Fatty, but the two of them are nervously unsure how to be in a romantic relationship (and incidentally, he later murders the neighbor’s mom’s boyfriend).

The neighbor with Fatty, who is not fat:

Min-Min is the mom of the family (Elaine Jin, also a mom in A Brighter Summer Day), has a breakdown while trying to talk to her comatose mom then disappears to a meditation retreat for the rest of the movie. And young son Yang-Yang is a slightly offbeat kid (spotted in his room: Astro Boy, Mickey Mouse, Batman, Pikachu… and the Hindenburg) who takes photos of the backs of people’s heads (a naïve, questioning photographer/observer who shows people things they can’t see for themselves, named after the film’s director, hmm).

Yang-Yang couldn’t deal with the wedding reception food:

Newlywed astrology nut A-Di is Min-Min’s brother, can’t keep his financial or romantic act together, with his longtime ex-girlfriend Yun-Yun showing up at the wedding and baby shower and making scenes. His wife Xiao Yan threatens to leave then comes back thinking A-Di has attempted suicide – he says he just fell asleep in the tub with the gas on. And I think A-Di’s money is stolen by business partner Piggy (yes, there’s a Piggy and a Fatty).

Yang won best director at Cannes, and died of cancer seven years later without producing a follow-up, which was rumored to be an animated Jackie Chan feature.

Kent Jones:

The New Taiwan Cinema was a predominantly urban phenomenon, the better to dramatize the rapacious speed of cultural upheaval. And Yang, Hou, and the slightly younger, Malaysian-born Tsai have employed, each in his own unique way, the sights, textures, rhythms, and social configurations of city living to devastating effect … Yang has set his city symphonies in a variety of emotional keys — the doleful lament of Taipei Story, the gridlike coolness of The Terrorizer, the comic hysteria of A Confucian Confusion, the carefully modulated fury of Mahjong. In Yi Yi, he brings all of these moods together, never allowing any one of them to take precedence over another. Which is to say that this is a grand choral work, with a panoptic majesty.

Rare 16mm print from Emory’s own collection. I was wary when the first word onscreen read “Strring,” but the subtitles turned out to be good.

Chin has frizzy hair, large glasses, has been dating round-headed fabric-store worker Lon since high school and they don’t seem very close anymore. Also they wear bad suits in every scene. Chin works assisting Ms. Mei, is getting a raise in her first scene at work, and the company is getting bought out (due to financial ruin from a 10 cm surveying error) in the next.

Her boyfriend Lon seems depressed, trades videotapes of baseball games with his former coach Mr. Lai. Lon’s ex Gwan is getting divorced, and Chin’s coworker Ko, also getting divorced, wants to hang out with Chin. Chin’s dad is inappropriate (and a financial mess, and former abuser), mom is evasive and withdrawn, and sister lives in a graffiti-laden high-rise (prominently scrawled: “Duran take youself”) with other kids. Lon runs into Kim, a cabbie friend with a flake wife and three unattended kids.

As the movie progresses (takes place over a few months), more and more money problems and relationship problems are revealed and intensified, not just from our central couple but everybody. The mood is occasionally lightened with a few jokes or some laughable 80’s fashion but there’s an air of constant unease. Things start to go bad when Lon gets into a bar brawl (to a Michael Jackson song, which may account for the movie’s unavailability on video), then Chin throws him out after he sees his ex, who is visiting from Tokyo.

Chin is being stalked by ex-coworker Ko at this point, and I wish I’d paid more attention to what he looked like, then maybe I’d be sure if he’s the one who stabs Lon to death at the end. Of Yang’s films I’ve only seen this, A Brighter Summer Day and Yi Yi, and each ends with a death. “Once it’s over, forget it. Understand?,” Lon says to the motorcycling assailant, who then follows Lon’s cab until the inevitable confrontation. Movie gets slightly metaphysical there at the end – he has a dying dream sequence reflected in an unplugged television, then it cuts from Lon, smoking, to the smoke above his head – beautifully done. Back to Chin, still unaware of her boyfriend’s fate, who is finally getting her job back, meeting her ex-and-future boss Ms. Mei in an empty, white office building, recalling the empty white apartment the couple was about to rent in the first scene.

Articles online mention visual distancing effects: characters peering through blinds, shots through mirrors, Chin’s ever-present sunglasses, one interaction shown only with shadows on a wall. They also mention Lon’s fantasies of playing baseball when he was younger, which I’d thought would be a bigger deal than it was. From skimming a couple articles I figured he’d be like the insufferable skateboard-head-injury guy in Little Children, but it’s more of a gently aimless pre-middle-aged malaise.

There’s a karaoke bar, but nothing that stands out as much as the karaoke scene in A Brighter Summer Day – better is a dance club where the power goes out in the middle of “Footloose” as Chin sits alone in the corner.

Written by Yang, Hou and T’ien-wen Chu (cowriter of Three Times, among others) and shot by Wei-han Yang, who worked with Yang again on Yi Yi but nothing in between.

Lead actress Chin Tsai married the director, was in a Stanley Kwan movie the following year which sounds pretty good, then nothing else. Hou Hsiao-hsien (Lon) was already a writer/director – his A Time to Live and a Time to Die came out the same year. Nien-Jen Wu (cabbie Kim) and I-Chen Ko (was he the stalker?) were also writer/directors… it’s an accomplished cast.

Update from shinbowi3 on twitter: the film’s original title “literally translates as Pure Plum and Bamboo Horse. This is a chinese phrase that colloquially describes a love born from childhood friendship. This title frames the film as more personal and I LOVE IT.”

“You women, you know nothing about friendships between men. Besides being suspicious, what else are you good for?”


Edward Yang died two weeks ago. The least I can do is watch his extremely acclaimed four-hour movie from ’91 that I bought on bootleg DVD almost four years ago and never watched before.

Unfortunately, “there are over a hundred speaking parts in the film and it is necessary to stay focused in order to keep track of what’s going on and to whom, which is a good trick to make sure your audience is always paying attention” (KS Kincaid). And my copy is a fuzzy bootleg disc from a decent-quality print. Not many close-ups and picture resolution is just poor enough that I usually can’t tell who is who. I try to latch on whenever someone says a character’s name, so I struggled somewhat through the storyline and lost many of the side characters and threads. Also there’s the occasional close-up on a letter or page with no subtitle translation. Criterion has done Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, so maybe there’s enough interest that this will get an eventual nice release.


Set in Taiwan in the early 60’s during military rule, an uneasy time according to the intro text, when many kids formed street gangs to strengthen their sense of identity and security. I sort of lost the gang thread, but kept up with lead character Sir and his family (gov’t worker dad, mom, younger sister, MIA older brother Honey) and friends (Cat & Airplane, girlfriend Ming), so when the bloody nighttime gang war (lit only with flashlights during a blackout) comes a half hour into disc two, I wasn’t sure who was slaughtering who, or how come it wasn’t a big deal to anyone the next day after a bunch of people had been killed. Instead, the secret police round up Sir’s dad and subject him to at least one full day and night of questioning and confessions and statements at an ominous ice factory.


Ming is actually Honey’s girl, but ends up briefly with Sir. After he gets expelled, she ends up with one of his friends, and is rumored to never have been faithful to Honey in the first place. Sir kills her with young Cat’s sword, a shocking action, but not as senseless as it first seems, given Sir’s history of violence, his idols and friends, everything leading up to the killing.


During more innocent times, the kids watch a John Wayne movie (?), send tapes to Elvis Presley, and hang out at the film studio next to the school.


The line “Honey’s dead” was probably not inspired by the Jesus & Mary Chain album of that title.

I’m interested in what people who understood the movie better than I did thought.

IMDB reviewer:

Edward Yang’s own father fled from Shanghai. Artifacts from other countries have great impact in this film, the use of Japanese samurai swords which are ultimately used as murder weapons, Russian novels are read by teenagers and understood as `swordsmen’ novels, a family’s observation that the Chinese fought the Japanese for 20 years only to then live in Japanese houses listening to Japanese music, an old tape recorder that has been left behind by the WWII American forces is used to adapt American lyrics and American rock n roll music for the Chinese, the film features American doo-wop music, first love, cigarettes, casual dress, the influence of Hollywood motion picture magazines and movies, the voice of John Wayne can be heard in one of the movie theaters, the title of the film comes from the Elvis Presley song, `Are You Lonesome Tonight,’ a comment on the dark cloud hanging over everyone’s heads, hardly a brighter, summer day.

“Inspired by a true incident of a 14 year old boy murdering a 13 year old girl, the first juvenile murder case in Taiwan’s history, the film opens and closes with an old, broken down radio broadcasting the lists of graduating students.”

“The film is so meticulous in its construction and its feeling of community (its preparation, filming and post-production took several years) that at the same time its length automatically gives it an epic quality it is a remarkably intimate film that is about as far from an epic in the traditional (Hollywood) sense as possible.”

“Like Hou Hsiao-hsien’s City of Sadness, A Brighter Summer Day is not a political film but a work of art that shows how individual experience is impacted by the flow of time and history.”

“The film is laced with nostalgia, but never at the expense of intelligence. He deftly creates a manifesto here that sums up his volatile, often conflicting, attitudes about his country’s modern history. Watching the film, with its seemingly limitless ability to examine the country, one laments the fact that every developing nation doesn’t have a storyteller as gifted as Yang probing the history of its progress.” (Movie Martyr)

Senses of Cinema on Yi Yi: “The film conveys a magnificent sense of life being lived, of time taking its toll on these characters as we watch them, unmatched in world film outside two of the other pre-eminent auteurs of Third World cinema: Abbas Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao-hsien. Yang is gifted with a remarkable sense of framing, alternating between a tighter framing that glimpses into the characters’ interior lives, and a more idiosyncratic framing that removes the characters from the immediacy of the close-up, and inserts physical-psychological-mental space between us and them.”

J. Rosenbaum also compares Taiwanese Yang and Hou with Kiarostami (as well as Makhmalbaf). “Part of what’s valuable about these four directors is what’s also made their films relatively unmarketable here–meditative narrative rhythms combined with a preference for long shots and medium shots over close-ups, an approach that both assumes and encourages analytical distance rather than simple immersion in the action.” “I have no doubt that the 230-minute version of A Brighter Summer Day… belongs in the company of key works of our era. … Indeed, Yang’s film surpasses these other masterpieces in its novelistic qualities, richly realizing a physical and social world as dense with family, community, and other personal ties as any John Ford film, and furnished with more sheer physical presence (including characters, settings, and objects) than any other fiction film I know of from the 90s.”

Oh wow, the actor who played Sir later appeared in Happy Together, Three Times and Crouching Tiger, played Mimi’s boyfriend in 2046 and the lead in Wong’s The Hand.

Hope I get to see this again sometime with better picture clarity… would be worth the trouble.