Adam M. Jammal’s review published on Letterboxd:
It’s taking me some time to write up this review. Because in all honesty it’s been a while since a film has broken me the way this masterpiece has. I’m sorry if this is all over the place but here goes nothing:
First, let me start by saying, like all three hour family epics by masters of cinema, it’s evident this film came from the heart & soul of Edward Yang. The film is basically about members of a family trying to come to terms with different aspects of their present & past relationships.
A very important aspect of this film is the idea of half-truths. This is portrayed and discussed by Yang Yang, the youngest child of the family. At some point, he asks his father why he only sees the front of things, and not the back. This is a metaphor for people making sense of things based on what they see on the surface of all situations. However, if we were to unpack our behaviors, and understand why we do them, we would bring out layers that would allow us to better understand ourselves. This is what Yang-Yang does. He shows people things about themselves they could never be able to see. For example, he takes pictures of people’s backs because they would never be able to see it. This is his way of seeing what’s deeper than the surface level. This might be absurd, and banal for the characters in the film. But for the audience, we see it as a chance for Yang Yang to understand more about himself and the people around him.
Throughout the whole film, there was a constant thought that kept coming to me: THE POWER OF SIMPLE CINEMATOGRAPHY. The film doesn’t spend too much time doing extravagant camera tricks, using slow pans to constantly evoke a slow & effective flow. Also, there are a lot of scenes that are shot from the exterior of certain locations, through glass windows. This goes back to what Yang Yang talks about: how we see the front & not the backs of things. It gives the feeling of walking by a café and seeing a couple breaking up from inside. It’s almost as if the camera, and the audience, are “passer-by”s: witnessing a moment between two or more people but only making sense of it based on what they see.
The scene of the grandma’s ghost with the daughter reminded me of the ending of Fanny & Alexander. Come to think of it, the whole film kept throwing Fanny & Alexander feels at me. I don’t know if that was intentional or just what happens when directors decide to make family epics. Going back, the grandma’s coma was more or less the middle point of the narrative of the film. The characters go back to her every-time they feel the need to purge or vent. This is a great way for the audience to put things in perspective, since perception plays a great part in films about family dilemmas.
The final aspect of the film I would like to talk about is the strong parallel of youth. The parallel exists with the father of the family, N.J., & his daughter, Ting Ting. As NJ tries to come to terms with the failed romances of teen years, Ting Ting tries to start hers up. This goes on throughout the film, as we constantly watch them make the same decisions, with the same consequences. I found this to be very well played on, since a lot of the questions that the characters ask have to do with their pasts and how its influenced where they are now. Moreover, it was a great way to make the family feel so distant, & yet so connected.
This film is brilliant. I haven’t stopped thinking about it for a while now. It’s films like Yi Yi, Fanny & Alexander, Roma, & Amarcord that remind the world of the importance of subtlety. Subtlety in films that require so much emotion are difficult to write, direct, shoot, act, edit, etc. When masters of cinema release films like this, I’m reminded of my intense love for cinema.
Long story short: YANG YANG IS MY FAV CHILD IN CINEMA I LOVE THE LITTLE FUCKER