Fri, Aug 07, 2009 - Page 16 News List

FILM REVIEW: Simplicity unveils a complex character in ‘Yang Yang’

With Ang Lee on board, ‘Yang Yang’ is being touted as the first feature film produced by Khan Lee as part of the Lee brothers’ efforts to nurture local directors

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

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After working with Sandrine Pinna (張榕容) in his feature debut Do Over (一年之初) in 2006, director Cheng Yu-chieh (鄭有傑) wrote Yang Yang, a character-driven, coming-of-age story tailor-made for his half-Taiwanese, half-French star. Tackling a story line that could easily stray into sudsy teenage romance or family melodrama territory, director Cheng eschews formulaic storytelling and spins an engaging yarn about a young woman’s struggle with identity and love while keeping lead character Yang Yang’s Eurasian qualities at the center of the narration.

The film opens with a long, handheld take that sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The intimate camera follows Yang Yang (Pinna), a university athlete born of a Taiwanese mother and a French father she never knew, as she greets guests and friends. It is her mother’s wedding day, and the groom is the girl’s track coach.

On the surface, Yang Yang seems close to her new step-sister Xiao-ru (He Si-hui, 何思慧), a fellow student and track-and-field athlete. But the hidden jealousy and rivalry between the two soon emerge as the prettier Yang Yang draws the attention of Xiao-ru’s boyfriend Shawn (Bryant Chang, 張睿家).

Things turns hopelessly sour when Xiao-ru finds out about Yang Yang’s fling with Shawn. Feeling guilty and hurt, Yang Yang leaves home and starts a modeling and acting career under the management of Ming-ren (Huang Chien-wei, 黃健瑋).

Yang Yang’s new life isn’t at all a smooth ride. But frustration and disappointment seem integral to her personal quest to find her place in the world.

Much more focused and controlled than Cheng’s messy debut Do Over, which weaves together five parallel stories with different styles, Yang Yang tells a simple story and makes it work. Shot mostly in long takes with handheld camera and natural lighting, it succeeds in mesmerizing audiences with an intimate and genuine feel. Jake Pollock’s fluid lens moves among characters as if it is an invisible performer capturing, receiving and responding to nuanced gestures and fleeting emotions. The shaky, sometimes under-exposed and out-of-focus images manifest the characters’ inner tumults, angst and desires.

FILM NOTES

YANG YANG 陽陽

DIRECTED BY:

CHENG YU-CHIEH (鄭有傑)

STARRING:

SANDRINE PINNA (張榕容)

AS YANG YANG, BRYANT CHANG (張睿家) AS SHAWN, HE SI-HUI (何思慧) AS XIAO-RU, HUANG CHIEN-WEI (黃健瑋) AS MING-REN

RUNNING TIME:

112 MINUTES

LANGUAGE:

IN MANDARIN WITH CHINESE AND ENGLISH SUBTITLES

TAIWAN RELEASE:

TODAY


Cheng’s Yang Yang is a young woman adept at emotional deception. Having always been at the center of attention for her Eurasian looks, Yang Yang has the habit of smiling and hiding how she thinks and feels when facing others who are just as complicated and calculating as herself. Such a complex character is many actress’ dream role, and Pinna lives up to expectations with a compelling performance imbued with emotional depth and charisma.

Ultimately, Yang Yang is all about its young star. In the film’s coda, the 22-year-old actress runs silently and alone at dawn with beads of sweat running down her face. She gasps for air, but continues to run toward an unknown destination. The image Pinna leaves on celluloid is one of a heroine who is flawed and vulnerable, but striving to stand on her own.

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