The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
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INTERGENERATIONAL TENSION. Wayne Wang’s A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, a touching and comic tale of parental love and cultural differences, opens Friday, November 28 at northeast Portland’s Hollywood Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
From The Asian Reporter, V18, #47 (November 25, 2008), page 13.
Wayne Wang’s new film is a gift for Asian-American cinema
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
Directed by Wayne Wang
Produced by Rich Cowan, Yukie Kito, and Wayne Wang
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures
By Marie Lo
In A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, director Wayne Wang returns to the kind of moviemaking that made him one of the most respected and successful chroniclers of Asian-American life. Reminiscent of the tender and bittersweet portrayals of family relationships in films such as Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart and Eat a Bowl of Tea, Wang’s new film is a touching look into family secrets, forgiveness, and renewal.
Based on a short story by Yiyun Li and filmed in Spokane, Washington, the film explores the repressed and muted relationship between father and daughter. Mr. Shi, a widower and retired rocket scientist, arrives from China to help his only daughter, Yilan, sort out her life after a recent divorce. But the years on her own in the United States have changed Yilan, and she fiercely guards her personal life from her father.
While Yilan is at work, Mr. Shi is left alone in his daughter’s non-descript apartment that bears no sign of their Chinese heritage. He finds himself relying on snooping to piece together his daughter’s life. He cooks elaborate Chinese meals to entice her into dinnertime conversation. But Yilan will have none of it, and the silence between them grows so overwhelming and so palpable that it is almost like another character, wedging itself between them.
Bit by bit, Mr. Shi ventures out of the gated apartment complex and meets Madam, an older Iranian woman who lives with her son. Through their broken English, the two find they have much in common.
Wang’s career has oscillated from mainstream films such as Maid in Manhattan and indie darlings such as Smoke to Asian-American gem The Joy Luck Club and the classic Chan is Missing, which inspired a generation of Asian-American filmmakers.
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is a twist on the conventional Asian-American story of intergenerational conflict. Unlike the melodrama of cultural conflict between the mothers and daughters of The Joy Luck Club, here cultural conflict is merely a backdrop to the unspoken tensions between Mr. Shi and Yilan. And unlike stories about the silently stoic old-world parent and the inquisitive and talkative assimilated child, the roles between Mr. Shi and Yilan are reversed. Yilan is tightly-wound and self-contained while Mr. Shi has a childlike openness to new people and new experiences.
Henry O, in particular, shines as Mr. Shi. Even in scenes with no dialogue and little action, he brings Mr. Shi to life with a tender comic touch. With his tentative shuffle and his shoulders folded over like a question mark, O captures the poignant awkwardness of a man whose aging body is not quite able to keep up with his curious mind.
Faye Yu, who worked with Wang on The Joy Luck Club, injects a quiet and simmering anger to her portrayal of Yilan. Though Yilan’s character seems less developed, Yu manages to use this lack to reflect the distance Yilan has created between herself and her father.
The film is beautifully shot in a style characteristic of some of Wang’s early films. The camera focuses and lingers on banal objects in a way that each frame becomes a still life, empty of human presence but evocative of the undercurrent of emotions that father and daughter are unable to express to each other: loneliness, anger, regret, love, and tenderness.
For fans of Wang’s Asian-American films, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is another reminder of why he is such an admired filmmaker of Asian-American experiences. For those new to his work, this is a wonderful introduction.
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers opens at the Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Boulevard in Portland, on Friday, November 28. For more information, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <www.hollywoodtheatre.org>. To learn more about the film, visit <www.magpictures.com>.