Maggie Lee – In His Time: the Films of Edward Yang

Interview with Leong Po-chih

Yang’s compositions were filled with windows and doorways, and he used long shots. His was a different film language from Hong Kong’s preference for quick cuts and close-ups, which reflected the city’s claustrophobia and emotional intensity.

He gave equal weight to all his characters. There was tremendous detail in every frame. You almost have to be an engineer to work that out. Everything has to be in the right place. He also paid a lot of attention to soundtrack … He may have been the first in Taiwan to push the boundaries in sounds.

There is a bit of Edward in the little boy Yang Yang in Yi Yi. His curiosity about everything meant that he sometimes saw the world through a child’s eye. There are also aspects of him in the paternal role of NJ. The last scene in Yi Yi where the boy reads his diary to his deceased grandma – that is Edward speaking.

Interview with Du Tuu-chih

Once Yang and I traveled up to Yang Ming Shan in the middle of the night to record some sounds. It took us a long time, just to complete one thing. Many directors would just go home right after filming wrapped up for the day.

Yang was also an aficionado in classical music. Word has it that Yang’s father used to make him stay home just to listen to classical music. Listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, he could tell which string quartet was playing it. Yang even re-scored Four Seasons for the soundtrack of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Boys from Fengkuei (1983).

Once, we were in Australia for sound mixing. I had flown in from Taipei and Yang from Europe. We sat at Sydney harbor reflecting on the circumstances that had gotten us there, how the two of us had each traveled halfway across the world to a foreign country to work on our passion together and how it was films that had given us a chance to be there.

Interview with Chen Po-wen

Yang often told me that he was happiest when overseeing editing because it was so much easier to achieve a desired effect or fix a problem on the editing table than to control a team or the variables on a shoot. Every time after a painful film shoot, he would look forward to the editing process tremendously, because that was where he could enjoy himself.

Especially with the use of music, Yang was especially sensitive and he had a great musical background. For example in the scene of the concert at Sun Yat Sen Hall in A Brighter Summer Day, there was an undercurrent of dramatic events happening during Cat’s performance with the band. If you do not have a certain sensitivity to music, it would be very difficult to bring out the essence of the scene. To the audience watching the scene, everything appears very natural and smooth, but during the editing process, you have to perfectly match musical cues and dialogue, and you can’t achieve that without a precise and intuitive sense of rhythm.

All his films were expressions of himself. Society, politics, friendship, feelings, they were all filtered through his subjective consciousness, and were expressions of what he felt in his heart … The unique way in which he approached the subject matter for his films was something rarely attempted by other Taiwanese directors. Before Yang, no other Taiwanese directors got international recognition for exploring urban themes this way. Yang changed after he had a child. Previously he had very cynical worldview and a harsh opinion of society … But after he had child, he changed, and in Yi Yi he presented a more compassionate viewpoint of humanity.

Yang did not deliberately use long shots, but there were examples of long shots in his films. However his use of long shots were different from other directors. There were a lot of movement in his long shots and they were not static. Whether it was the camera movement itself or the movement of the characters within the scene, his long shots were seldom quiet and contemplative.

Interview with Angelika Wang

He really enjoyed communicating with young people and to nurture them. He never treated us like kids but as equals, listening to our views with real interest. He talked to us about all sorts of ideas and topics. But he distanced himself from the public and from a lot of people in the trade. He was very close to his mother, so he was extremely understanding and sensitive to female mentality and sensibility. Ming, the female protagonist in Brighter in some ways mirrors Yang – she has a soft, tender side, but also has the spunk of love and hate passionately.

In 2005, Yang and Hou were both invited to Cannes Film Festival – the former as the head of the jury for short film competition and the latter for Three Times which was in competition for the Palme d’Or. When they met they hugged each other after having drifted apart for a long time. It was a moving moment to behold, and it was also the last time I saw Yang.

Interview with Wei De-sheng

He didn’t like to talk to his cast or crew about small, dry technical details. He only expounded on ideas and values about the nation, culture, literature, politics. Yet, why do the same actors who earned awards for appearing in his works often fail to achieve the same results in other people’s productions? It was owing to the ambiance Yang cultivated to lend the roles exceptional credibility … he strained to build perfects sets that would allow the cast to come immersed the film’s fictional world.

Interview with Chen Yi-wen

An amusing case was a car scene in Yi Yi. The protagonist NJ was supposed to be driving his family home from a banquet. It was a short scene, with no dialogue. The scene was reshot four times. At the first reshoot, Wu noticed that the actress playing his wife had been changed. Next time, he peered over his shoulder and found the girl playing his daughter was someone else.

Yang allowed me to see what it means to be a serious filmmaker. I learned that there is a time for seriousness whatever filmmaking conditions you face.

Interview with Chiang Hsiu-chiung

If you studied Yang’s characters, you see him in each of them. Even in the role of Yang Yang, you can see traces of Yang’s personality, as if he was talking through the boy. The only exception was with Wu Nien-jen. He trusted him so much he let him revise his own lines. Wu understood Yang so well he could express his intentions even better than in Yang’s own words, especially when the dialogue required Taiwanese dialect, with which Wu really eloquent.

Of course, we belong to different eras, but I’d spent so much time and effort probing his mind and trying to see with his eyes that I internalized some of this thoughts … I often relive the moments of Yang’s career and picture what he went through and tell myself whatever difficulty or setback I face is nothing. He is someone who devoted himself almost entirely to his films. What inspired me most about both Yang and Hou was their unshakable determination to get things perfect. Yang would re-shoot from scratch even after crank-out. I deeply admire the scope and dimension of Yang’s cinema.

The Martyrdom of an Idealist: Death in the Films of Edward Yang, by Ryan Cheng

From the advent of A Confucian Confusion, there is a palpable change in Yang’s films. “Everything we can see with our eyes, there must still be another brand new perspective awaiting our discovery … … There are signs everywhere hinting at us, that we can live more blissfully with hope anew! To conquer hypocrisy is not about dying in the literal sense, but to live on with real honesty.” Spoken by the Secluded Poet (Hung Hung), these large chunks of soliloquy are presented without a single edit, with no concern at all for the audience’s ability to digest them. Through a seemingly unexpected, fragmented and nonsensical euphoric expression, Yang had proclaimed the new and sudden realization of his personal beliefs. No matter how complex, contradictory and absurd, he would have enough strength to go on till the end. And this is what the three-hour long Yi Yi painstakingly tells us.

The Blood of Youth, by Wen Tien-hsiang

Yang’s high regard for youth as a paragon of innocence and idealism was one of the ways in which he would inspect and question a time and a society. It is Yang’s courage to dabble in such “confucian confusion” that made him a director of paramount moral speculation in the history of Taiwanese cinema.

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