Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

After waiting for so long –but the wait is totally worth it- this Wayne Wang 2007 film is great to watch as not only tells a puzzling story about generational gap, east-west cultural/social differences, language as reflection of a culture, repeating what you think your parents did, trying to come to terms with your past, -and more- but also lightly touches something I have always wondered about, how an ordinary individual with a strong communist belief sees the “other” system and in this case for the character is a “total mystery”.

The film tells about a father and daughter short encounter in America. After what it seems a long time of not seeing each other, Mr. Shi comes to Spokane, Washington from Beijing to try to help her divorced daughter, that according to him, her husband left her and returned to China. From the very first scene you notice that their relationship is strained, as Yilan gives her father a very cold and distant reception. The last words, cold and distant, totally describe what follows in the story, the entire movie style, the color palette, the sets, and the look and feel of the condo where Mr. Shi will spend most of his time alone trying to figure out how to help his daughter. This only changes briefly when Mr. Shi is at the park talking with Madam, a Farsi speaking older woman, and their “conversation” brilliantly exemplifies the power of communication when you have very little knowledge of the language you are speaking. The story slowly evolves into the climax, where they –and us viewers- discover some very revealing facts about what really happened to Mr. Shi and Yilan in what we can call milestone or turning moment in their lives.

As probably you imagine by now, the story evolves with a very slow pace that skillfully transmits loneliness and lack of communication between father/daughter even when they speak the same language. As a movie has great tech specs that totally contribute to the story told and not for one moment distracts you from following the plot. Have to say that I found the movie to be an intense ride, even when in the screen not much happened with words and actions, but the movie style absolutely makes you feel all the unspoken emotions. Great.

Not often I really enjoy an American indie, but this film that premiered at the 2007 Toronto fest and totally triumphed at the 2007 San Sebastian fest were won four awards including the top award, the Golden Seashell for Best Film and the Silver Seashell for Best Actor to Henry O that plays Mr. Shi, is one that definitively enjoyed beyond my expectations.

Not for all audiences as the slow pace and not much happening in the screen is not easy to sustain by many; but I believe that this film is Wang’s easiest to watch –outside his very commercial films- since his acclaimed The Joy Luck Club. So, I suggest to many of my known readers to give it a try as the story is very compelling and definitively do not agree with some that mention that the story is only relevant to Chinese-Americans, this is a very universal story about the skills of great communication with a second language and the absurdity of the lack of communication in your own language due to cultural traditions and subtleties.


Watch trailer @ Movie On Companion

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