TajLV’s review published on Letterboxd:
#54 of 100 in my Top 100 Directors Challenge
It takes several sets of characters, but somehow writer-director Edward Yang manages to use the circumstances of a single Taiwanese family to take us through all the stages of ordinary life in a little less than three hours. There's birth, death and everything in between, from adolescent curiosity and coming of age to first love, lost love, rekindled love and love turned to hate. There's making money, losing money, enjoying one's work, hating one's work and giving up on work. There's deceit and truth, spirituality and nihilism, discovery and disillusionment.
At the center of this maelstrom of human predicaments is a middle-aged businessman named N.J. Jian. On the day of the wedding of his younger brother A-Di (Hsi-Sheng Chen), their elderly mother referred to as Grandma (Ru-Yun Tang) has a stroke and lapses into a coma. While she convalesces at their Taipei condominium, each member of the family must deal with their own feelings about life and purpose, leading to a series of highly emotional twists and turns.
Among these is the struggle of N.J.'s wife Min-Min (Elaine Jin) to come to terms with her "blank" existence, causing her to leave the family for a mountain retreat with a spiritual master. There's also their teenage daughter Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee), who is beginning to feel an attraction to boys and becomes involved with Fatty (Pang Chang Yu), the former boyfriend of her BBF Lili (Meng-chin 'Adriene' Lin). And their eight-year-old son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang), teased by girls and humiliated by his teachers, is just starting to learn about reality, mainly through the lens of a camera.
Both N.J. and A-Di have encounters with past lovers that lead to dead ends. The former's old flame Sherry Chang (Su-Yun Ko), now married to an American, goes so far as to meet him in Japan when he goes there for a business deal with computer game developer Mr. Ota (Issei Ogata). A-Di's wife Xiao-Yan (Shu-shen Hsiao), who was quite pregnant at the time of her marriage, goes ballistic at a baby shower when her hubby's jilted former classmate Yun-Yun (Hsin-Yi Tseng) shows up uninvited.
Add to this a disagreement between N.J. and his corporate partners on how to conduct ethical business, money troubles for A-Di and the discovery that Lili's mom Mrs. Jiang (Shu-Yuan Hsu) is shagging her daughter's English teacher ... it's easy to see how this caught the eyes of judges at Cannes for a Palme d'Or nomination and a Best Director win for Yang. It's a movie that made me laugh, cry and think, and isn't that exactly what good cinema (and life) is all about?