Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
I’ve been looking forward to Yi Yi for ages .. well at least a year. So many of my Letterboxd friends, whose taste and judgement I deeply respect, have rated it highly. Well, today is the day.
I always try and tone down expectations, especially when I’m practically salivating to watch something. Although I try as hard as I can not to know anything about a film, from askance glances I knew it was a slow, slice of life, family centred story. Perfect! I love that! Jeanne Deilman, Le Quattro Volte, and my new love The Strange Little Cat are exactly in that vein, and films that I absolutely love. Conditions couldn’t be more perfect. A rainy Sunday afternoon watch, and a shiny new Criterion Blu ready to be slotted. On with the show!
I didn’t love it. I didn’t even really like it. Before I become a Letterboxd Leper, and lose all of my dear friends, please let me explain myself.
After watching, I did a brief assay of my friend’s reviews, and a common element was their love of the ordinary moments of life, of the mundane, of the sense of real family. Well, this is exactly where I see the opposite. A hysterical ex appearing at a wedding reception, a murder next door because a school teacher is sleeping with both a mother and daughter, a caricature, money borrowing brother who breaks into his ‘stupidly trusted’ business associate, ‘Piggy’s’, place and discovers a rare gem that ran- sackers left behind isn’t precisely average for me. It screams night time soap, or, absurd farce. The former I have little patience for, and the latter wasn’t presented in such a way. It all just seemed like bloat.
The tragedy for me was that there were enough wonderful characters and elements in the story that if this fat was paired off, I may well have loved it. I loved the interaction between N.J. and Ota. I loved the battle he had with the company he invested his life with about being daring and taking risks as opposed to being safe and going for knock-offs. I loved Yang Yang, and his emerging view of the world, the failed balloon drop on his tormentor, and the scene of him watching her from afar and learning to hold his breath. That was a lovely ‘punching in the arm’ moment. I loved Ting Ting and her grandmother. I loved Ting Ting tentatively and furtively considering Fatty.
I liked the parallelism between N.J. and Sherry with Ting Ting and Fatty, although it was a bit too synchronous and on-the-nose to be great. I somewhat liked the N.J. and Sherry reconnection, although the contrivance and histrionics rather brought it down for me.
Despite the wonderful and somewhat nice moments, I can’t get past the fact that the ‘fat’ in this film made me want to snooze in the afternoon. So much so that after the first hour I brought down a cup of coffee, and I NEVER drink coffee in the afternoon. I saw a great film in here buried in a mountain of unnecessary embellishments.
I feel sad that I don’t feel the love my friends feel.