A one and a two

Filmmaker Edward Yang passed away a couple of days ago.

The last film he made was released about 7 years ago - Yiyi, translated as A One and a Two - just about the time he was diagnosed with cancer. Yiyi was the first film I watched with J. It was at the 14th Singapore Film Festival, I remember. I was just wondering why there's not been a new film from him when wurx sms-ed me the news.

The very first time I watched a film at the Singapore Film Fest, it was in 1991(92?) and it was Edward Yang's 3.5hr film about Taiwan in the 50s, A Brighter Summer Day. Its Chinese title translates more literally as "Gu Ling Street Teenage Murder Incident". The film had music (the schoolkids in the film had formed a band singing Elvis covers, hence also the film's title), comedy, love, a 15 year-old Zhang Zhen (already goodlooking), history and politics (since the film was set in the years of the "White Terror"), family drama, fights and gangs (yes, it's Taiwan!), and a murder.

For me, it was a "perfect" film. There was no fault to be found with the pacing (not even at 3.5hr!), characterisation, score, cinematography, casting. It never descended into a romanticisation of the past - the director's feet planted firmly in the present - yet it allowed the audience those moments of quiet with each character, enough for you to want to care. When J and I went to Taiwan for the first time in 2005, we made it a point to search out Gu Ling Jie/Street. In the 50s, this was supposedly a street known for its bookshops.

Some years later, I attended my first and only media preview of a film - and it was Yang's A Confucian Confusion (its Chinese title translates literally as "The Age of Independence"). Louder, more ascerbic in its satirisation of contemporary Taiwan and cariacatures from its "culture industry" - a maverick Theatre director who rollerblades everywhere and has affairs with all his female leads; an emaciated writer married to a TV talkshow celebrity and lives in the dark, ashamed about his own romantic novels, and acquires a doomsday perspective of life; a rich Tai Ke (Taiwanese version of the Singaporean Beng) who fancies himself a cultural entrepreneur overnight; an earnest Engineer and his equally earnest girlfriend... The film nonetheless allowed for moments of poignancy and almost sympathy for the perverse situations the characters get themselves into.

Many afternoons during my summer holidays back in Singapore from the UK years ago were spent holed up in my parents' TV room watching VCDs (bought from a shop at Shaw Tower before "art films" were commonly distributed on VCD/DVDs) of Taiwanese movies, including Yang's earlier Mahjong and The Terrorisers. When A Brighter Summer Day was screened in London at the ICA, I made it a trip from Cambridge to watch the film and catch a dialogue between Edward Yang and UK critic Tony Rayns.

I'd always always remember reading that Edward Yang never trained as a film maker, but had in fact studied engineering in America, making the switch only later. That's admirable, I had thought.

Rest in peace, Mr Yang - thanks for all the films and memories.

NYT's obituary here.


Shit... i love that film.
ampulets said…
yah, gonna watch it again.
i left my VCD copy in singapore with a friend!
orangeclouds said…
Yes, am trying to get hold of those movies of his that I haven't watched. (Death does this to us.) Like your/J's photo of Gu Ling Jie, btw.

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