I had Yi-Yi at home for almost a week from Netflix. Such things happen when you are working 70 hours a week and you only have late evening hours to watch a movie and the movie happens to be 3 hours long. I actually started it two seperate times and got about 30 minutes in and realized I was not ready for the commitment of watching a 3 hour film at midnight. When I finally got around to watching it yesterday morning, uninterrupted and in it's entirety it took me a while to figure out how I actually felt about it.
Yi-Yi is set in present day Taiwan and follows one family over the coure of what seems to be a month or a few weeks. The film starts out with a wedding. Before the wedding a grandmother falls ill and needs to be taken home. Shortly after we find out she has had a stroke, and falls into a coma, which sets strange things in motion for nearly every member of the family. The mother (and daughter of the grandmother) feels her life is empty after she feels she has nothing to say to her mother as she lies in a coma. She goes on a religuous retreat. NJ, the father of this family ran into his first love Shelly by chance at the wedding. As his wife is at the religious retreat he needs to go to Japan for business and takes that opportunity to meet up with Shelly again to examine the "what if?" Ting-Ting, the daughter can not sleep as she feels Grandma's stroke is her fault since she did not take out the trash. She takes Grandma's stay in a coma as a sign that Grandma has not forgiven her. Meanwhile, she has her first experience with love, or something close to it. Finally, Yang-Yang the 8 year old son gets in and out of trouble at school and somehow becomes the most endearing kid I've seen in many years of film.
At first glimpse at a story like this, I think "I have seen this movie before, family overcomes tragedy hardship through the collective human spirit and everything is terrific. Hurrah!" But this film didn't work like that. In fact there was a ridgidity or lack of closeness that seemed to penatrate all of this families dealings with one another. You almost never saw them together in the same place except for the large gathering of the wedding and two other points in the movie. There were not any moments where you had teh Hollywood father daughter/son heart to heart talk. Yet at the end of the movie, after a very well written and emotional final few words I felt deeply moved. And because of the apparent lack of closeness in the family I could not initially tell if I had been duped by an terrufic finale, or if teh film itself actually had that hold on me the entire time.
Truth told, the first two hours of the film I found myself wondering why I should care about members of this family, or there stories. It wasn't till the final hour that the stories connected in a way to make this family seem like, well, a family. And while it may have been maipulative "we are all connected, by certain moments" storytelling, it worked. Also, as has been pointed out in some other reviews the lack of closeness i tended to observe may not have actually been what I thought, but instead a commentary on the compartmentilization of city and family life in Taiwan. And, truthfully, I don't think that feeling is limited to just taiwan, I get the feeling it is very much present in modern city life in America. It's been present for ages, and was even explored in the Jaques Tati film Playtime while talking about 1960's Paris.
In the end, while I think Yi-Yi could probably have used a bit more editing and cut away maybe 30 minutes or so from the run time, I did find it to be a much better film than I had anticipated, even if it doesn't live up to the "modern masterpiece" title that some have given it. It's a film that is beautiful to look at, deliberately paced, and leaves you with quite a bit to think about even days after seeing the film, which is an achievement in and of itself.