Directors’ Showcase / UK premiere

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

  • Wayne Wang /
  • United States of America /
  • 2007 /
  • 83 mins

Pasha Lychnikoff, Faye Yu, Henry O, Vida Ghahremani / Fiction / English, Mandarin, Farsi

Heartfelt account of family life and cultural displacement.

?This picture marks Wayne Wang’s return to the style of emotionally resonant independent filmmaking that first made his name with films like The Joy Luck Club. The film follows the elderly Mr. Shi, who comes to America to visit his daughter Yilan – she emigrated years before, and has made a life for herself in the cookie-cutter world of suburban California. Wang eschews complex plotting, opting instead for a detailed exploration of the relationship between the father and his estranged daughter – he, concerned to see that Yilan is happy, and living a decent life; she, reluctant to share her life with her father, whose presence she resents. Mr. Shi is played to perfection by the great Henry O, whose minutest expression speaks volumes as he gradually finds that his daughter’s life is wholly different from one of which he would approve, and as he navigates a landscape that’s culturally and aesthetically alien to him. Some of the strongest scenes show Mr. Shi’s quiet dismay as he watches the strange lives of the Californians, locked in a relentlessly sterile landscape of planned housing developments and strict routine. Their blinds stay closed – concepts of “neighbour” and “family” have withered on the vine in the plasticated world his daughter inhabits, and in their place a weed-like need for privacy thrives instead. Henry O’s masterfully subtle performance conveys a poignant sense of loss, as he comes to understand his daughter’s life. The camera is mostly still, the pace resolutely contemplative throughout. Wang’s stylistic restraint foregrounds his tremendous empathy with the characters, and draws us deep into Mr. Shi’s point of view. The effect is to show us America through Mr. Shi’s eyes – the lucid eyes of an incomer. Like its companion-piece The Princess of Nebraska, also screening at EIFF (p 70), this is an exceptionally affecting new film by one of the masters of American cinema.

2008 Archive

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