Edward Yang Capsule Reviews

Edward Yang Capsule Reviews

In Our Time (1982) — August 23, 2020

Nothing more pure than Edward Yang’s complete and total lack of respect for international copyright law as it pertains to the use of popular music in film. He put two (2!) Beatles songs in his debut short film. Absolute legend.

That Day, On the Beach (1983) — May 19, 2018

[Sylvia Chang’s wild] side is buried very deep in 1983’s That Day, On the Beach, the first feature by both director Edward Yang and cinematographer Christopher Doyle. In 1981, Chang was producing a Taiwanese TV series called Eleven Women and was looking to hire young directors. One of the people she hired was Yang, who had just quit his job as an engineer in Seattle to move home to Taiwan a join the film industry. His work on the series, and as an assistant on a friend’s TV movie (The Winter of 1905, on which Doyle also worked), landed him connections throughout the Taiwanese film industry, the youngest, most ambitious members of which would congregate at his house. The outgrowth of this was the New Taiwan Cinema, led first by a pair of omnibus films (In Our Time, in which Sylvia Chang stars in the fourth segment, directed by Yi Ching, and The Sandwich Man) and then a pair of features, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Boys from Fengkuei and Yang’s That Day, On the Beach. In That Day, Chang plays a woman who meets up with an old friend she hasn’t seen in 13 years. In catching up, she tells the woman (who had been in love with Chang’s brother until their parents separated them in favor of an arranged marriage) the story of her life so far. Avoiding her own arranged marriage, she ran away from home and married her boyfriend. As he climbed the corporate ranks they led a life of luxury and boredom, until she realized that he had been cheating on her, and his business partners as well. All this comes to a head one day when he appears to have drowned. Chang spends the whole day on the beach, reflecting on her life. With its complicated structure of time shifts and nested flashbacks, and framing device of a conversation between two older women looking back on their disappointing lives, the film very much looks forward to Chang’s own acclaimed 1986 film Passion, although that film lacks the beauty of Doyle’s images or the precision of Yang’s staging. That Day isn’t quite the masterpiece that Yang’s next several films would be, but as a debut film it’s a remarkable achievement. And Chang, buried as she is under a truly outstanding 1980s perm, gives one of her best performances.

Taipei Story (1985) — March 15, 2015

“Forget America. It’s not a panacea either. Like marriage, it's just a fleeting hope, giving you a kind of illusion that you can start everything over again.”

Appalled by the horrendous state of the film on video, a VCD dub of a bad VHS. Really the star rating should be an ‘incomplete.’

Added: August 19, 2020:
It’s so great to see this restored, now let’s get those last two Yangs fixed as well.

I don’t know that Hou Hsiao-hsien is really much of an actor, but this seems to me the closest he came, Time to Live aside, at portraying himself on screen. There’s a bit in the doc Our Time, Our Story where some of the other New Cinema directors talk about Hou’s trouble fitting in with their group, him having grown up relatively poor, in a more rural area of Taiwan, while many of them had travelled and studied around the world. You can really feel that misfit in his performance here.

You’re playing so cool, obeying every rule
Deep way down in your heart
You’re burning, yearning for the some-somebody to tell you
That life ain’t passing you by
I’m trying to tell you
It will if you don’t even try

The Terrorizers (1986) — March 15, 2015

The gorgeousness of the Blu-Ray “print” of this only makes me more depressed about the terrible condition of the version I watched of Taipei Story.

Of the handful of 80s Taiwanese New Cinema films I’ve seen (just these two Yangs and the Hous), this one I think comes the closest to the more or less contemporary Hong Kong New Wave, two, in most respects, very distinct film movements. The youth could fit easily into the worlds of Patrick Tam’s Nomad (the photographer) or Tsui Hark’s Dangerous Encounters—First Kind (the prostitute), while the meta-literary/cinematic twists are much more in the vein of the narrative games of the Hong Kongers than the neo-realism of Hou's 80s films and Taipei Story (although Hou will head more in this direction in the 90s, I don’t know about Yang, I haven’t seen anything from the time between A Brighter Summer Day and Yi yi yet).

Early in the film there’s a gorgeous series of shots set to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, the same song used to great effect 20 years later in Hou’s Three Times. It makes me wonder if the 1960s section of that film was meant as a Yang homage and not a Wong Kar-wai one (as I've seen it frequently compared). Also it made me imagine Hou and Yang, sometime around 1983, hanging out at Yang’s house at three in the morning, drinking beer and chain-smoking and listening to The Platters on repeat.

Added August 21, 2020:
The first time I watch an Edward Yang movie, every Edward Yang movie, I’m pretty much confused the whole time but end up thinking that it’s really good. The second time I watch an Edward Yang movie, I think it’s the greatest movie ever made.

Something about art and beauty and truth and lies and which lies are good (the art ones) and which lies are bad (the real ones) and how mixing them up is about the most dangerous thing a person can do, for themselves and for the whole community.

A Brighter Summer Day (1991) — April 27, 2016

Kids nowadays with their dating and their street gangs.

“You seem to lack inner calm. . .”

“You can’t ask others to do what you think is right.”

“Don’t let the past get you down.”

“Have you ever done anything for anyone?”

“You can’t even tell real from fake, how can you make movies?”

Mahjong (1996) — April 14, 2016

There are tens of thousands of Angelas in Hong Kong, but only one Virginie Ledoyen in Taipei.

Probably what should be Edward Yang’s most popular film, a distillation of the disaffected youth of A Brighter Summer Day, the punishing romanticism of Taipei Story and The Terrorizers, and the panoptic warmth of Yi yi. Ledoyen plays a young French girl who falls in with a gang of scam artist would-be gangsters. One boy (Chang Chen) seduces women, another pretends to be a prophetic geomancer while his buddies arrange destructive stunts to prove his skills in the hopes of bilking gullible rich people out of home improvement cash. The leader of the gang hopes to impress his father by outwitting one of his father’s rivals, but the dad isn’t interested: hiding from creditors he retreats from the world into a kind of suicidal happiness. Alone among the boys is a quiet, skinny translator, he falls for Ledoyen (although really, who doesn’t) and fights everyone (his friends, her boyfriend, a pair of confused assassins) for her affection. The final moments are the most romantic images ever to come out of the New Taiwan Cinema.

Yi yi (2000) — July 17, 2016

Thinking about this as a glass is half full remake of A Brighter Summer Day. . . I don’t know.

In a way, it’s a more callous film, decentering the killer from the narrative and focusing instead on the relatively petty problems of the neighboring family puts both into relief. Murder and high drama are things that happen to other people, the prosaic troubles, work, first love, minor school bullying, seem quaint in comparison. ABSD seems to me a search for how an inexplicable murder could have happened, ultimately failing to find a reasonable answer. Yi yi seems to start from the assumption that we can’t ever know. We’re so lost in our own worlds.