PTAbro’s review published on Letterboxd:
PTAbro's World Tour Stop 21: Taiwan
Whether it was the 3 hour run time, reserved and nuanced performances, or Edward Yang's naturalistic direction (or a combination of the three), something amazing happened while watching Yi Yi. One minute, it was a superb drama, a familial slice-of-life, and the next, it was a documentary. It felt so real, so authentic, that the fact that these people and events were scripted is completely forgotten. They are a real family, real people, and not only was I watching something true actually happen, I was transported into their world. I felt possessive and protective of them. I laughed along with NJ and Ota. I yelled at Yang-Yang to stay away from that pool. I felt ashamed to be in the same hotel room as Ting-Ting and Fatty. I was there.
Edward Yang has created such a wonderfully immersive world in Yi Yi that the technical tricks of mirror images and hallucinations is not important. The score, which might be one of the most evocative and best used examples of understated subtlety I've ever enjoyed in a drama like this, is not important. These people -this family - is important. Not in the dramatic events that occur, but in the quiet moments, the transitions between those events, the normal, the everyday. That aspect of feeling like a documentary gives greater weight to the crucial events that guide the film more than a big movie star or technical flourishes or contrived situations ever could. This is total immersion. This is the magic act performed flawlessly. This is no movie, it is voyeurism of the mundane, and it is exhilarating.
Special mention must be made of Nien-jen Wu, who plays the family's father, NJ. He plays the part with such reserved subtlety, a weariness unmatched, that embodies an extraordinarily familiar fatherly aspect - doing everything he can for his family, putting the role of 'father' before himself, that to see those private moments, to see that he is just as human as anyone else, with waffling doubt and sometimes-wavering stoicism, both deconstructs the heroic myth most fathers in film are saddled with and strengthens it by remaining so consistent, having a narrative arc instead of a developmental one. Nien-jen Wu is reason enough to watch this film again and again.
Yi Yi is a stunner. It's so full of characters and ideas that it feels like twice its actual length, and every second is enjoyable. In fact, so fully does it transport the viewer into the world created that I found myself kicking and screaming to hold on, to wait just a few more minutes, to let me stay with this wonderful family just a little longer. That Yang is no longer around to revisit them is a fact I've not fully comprehended or accepted yet. What I do know is that as a farewell, no director could hope for a more life-affirming film to bow out on.