SimBelm’s review published on Letterboxd:
Edward Yang's Yi Yi is a culmination of everything the director had done up to that point, considering the quality of his earlier work this is unsurprisingly, for me, one of the greatest films made in the last 15 years. It's a film that begs the viewer to partake and derive the substance from the film themselves. Using a family of nine we are shown a wealth of themes that overlap and I find it overwhelming how well developed and entwined they are. Family, relationships, marriage, friendships, education, work, mortality, communication, the list goes on. As well as effortlessly changing theme, Yang has the ability to carefully switch tones, harmonizing sadness with laughter.
By having such a wide span of ages in the characters, Yang is able to portray a lifetime in film. Childbirth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, and the experiences that go with that lifetime, first attraction, first love, first relationship, relationships breaking up, marriage, pregnancy, parenting, relationships with children and elderly parents, mortality, and more. Not only does Yang portray these experiences, but he overlaps and reflects them. A daughter has her first experience of love whilst her father relives his own.
Narratives reflect other narratives with the same poetic overlap as some of the daring window and mirror reflections. Yang's method of filming and framing feels so precise and controlled. Several times in the film he shoots through the front and back window of a building, the resulting roads that are reflected off these windows create virtual head on collisions with cars and roads that overlap in the same way as his narratives. The mother Min-Min stares out into the night, we see both night time Taipei and herself reflected, she walks back to talk to a colleague as her torso lines up with the flashing red light of a distant car, she's distressed. This isn't the only time Yang uses red lights to signal overpowering emotion, we see a young couple's first kiss next to a set of traffic lights progressing from red to green to red, we see a young daughter's emotional confession to her dying grandmother as the room is lit up by the flashing red light of a police car. Not only does the flashing light display her sadness filling the room, but at the same time the police are breaking depressing news to a mother and daughter downstairs. This is just one instance of synchronicity in a film that showcases it at every corner. A family argument ends in screams as Yang cuts to a newborn baby crying, the sounds merge as we think about the experiences ahead of the child. A solemn exchange between a married couple is played out under the sounds of a far more aggressive quarrel in the next flat. The thunderous roars of a school presentation on clouds sound out the feeling of a young boy experiencing his first attraction, which then cuts to his older sister standing outside alone in the middle of a thunderstorm.
The narratives of these characters blend, but they each deal with them on their own. We discover, just like the young son Yang-Yang does, that sometimes we need other people to help us see what we can't. Yi Yi is a rich and beautiful film that even at three hours leaves you wanting more, I could watch it again and again (and again).