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"We need to be aware of what is truly going on within ourselves and others."
Raymond Teague is the author of Reel
Spirit: A Guide to Movies That
He is an award-winning
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"Reel Spirit" Movie Reviews
Yi Yi translates "A One and a Two." Think of Lawrence Welk saying "a one and a two" to start a new dance number. Yi Yi is about the universal dance of life and a Taiwan family trying to learn the steps.
The intricate steps of life's dance, as everyone knows, can be difficult to master. That's why we can identify with the various "dancers" in Yi Yi's extended family and what they are going through.
There is the father, NJ (Wu Nienjen), an honest businessman coping not only with the unscrupulous dealings of his partners but also with a renewed interest in a long-ago love.
There is NJ's wife, Min-Min (Elaine Jin), who has a nervous breakdown and goes to a spiritual retreat center to recover.
There is their teenage daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) and her budding sexuality. There is their eight-year-old son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), a sensitive youth tormented by the girls at school.
There is also Min-Min's mother, who is comatose following a stroke, and NJ's brother, who has a rocky new marriage and a very visible ex-girlfriend. And there are others. Life in the high-rise apartment in modern-day Taiwan is one big soap opera from writer-director Edward Yang.
The film has a deliberate pace that lets us study the dance. Yang doesn't have all the answers about life wrapped up in a tidy two-step, but he does offer a valuable suggestion for mastering the dance of life: We need to be aware of what is truly going on within ourselves and others. The heart and soul of the film is the young, inquisitive Yang-Yang, who is quietly concerned with the bigger steps of life, such as truth and perspective.
"Daddy, can we see only half of the truth?" Yang-Yang asks. He wonders because it occurs to him that he can never see behind himself. He starts taking pictures of the backs of people's heads to help them see the bigger picture.
As situations and relationships unfold, it is clear that people are only seeing half-truths and are thus reacting and judging from only partial facts. As a result, to continue the dance analogy, they step all over each other's toes and have one disastrous, frustrating dance after another. What they need is to become more aware of how and where they are stepping. The importance of awareness also registers clearly with Min-Min, who realizes that she has not been fully participating in life and aware of all it offers.
"I live a blank - every day, every day," she sobs.
In contrast, a Japanese businessman whom NJ meets exudes awareness of life's potentials. "Every day is beautiful," he says, appreciating each moment. "We never live the same day twice."
NJ provides an example of a person who seemingly has it made in life but whose life is actually beset with problems. When he is given second chances, he realizes, "There's very little I'm sure about these days." The realization is opportunity for self-reflection and growth.
Growth does occur during the film's dance as characters become more aware of the truth about themselves and others. And some perhaps learn a startling lesson that people often make the dance out to be more difficult than it is. Min-Min says, "I've come to realize things aren't really so complicated."