WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2007-07 > 1183895641
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [WORLD-OBITS] YANG: Edward Yang 29.jun,2007
Date: Sun, 8 Jul 2007 12:54:01 +0100
Last Updated: 2:23am BST 03/07/2007
Edward Yang, who has died in Los Angeles aged 59, was one of the leading
figures of the new Taiwanese cinema that came to prominence in the early
1980s as a direct result of government encouragement.
Unlike his contemporary, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Yang made relatively few feature
films, only seven in all. But at least two of them - A Brighter Summer Day
(1991) and Yi Yi (2000), also known as A One and a Two - are recognised as
masterpieces. The latter won him the best director award at the Cannes Film
Hou and Yang, both originally from China, were very different film-makers.
Where Hou focused on Taiwan's history and rural past, Yang concentrated on
its urban present. Together their work amounted to a remarkable portrait of
how the island evolved and what it is like to live there today.
Born Yang Dechang in Shanghai in 1947, probably on November 6, though some
reference works list dates in September of that year, he moved with his
parents to Taiwan in 1949, when the Communists took over the mainland.
Educated at Taiwan's Chiao-tung University, he obtained a degree in
Engineering in 1969 and subsequently an MA in Computer Science from the
University of Florida in 1974. At this time he dabbled in film, spending a
term on the course offered at the University of Southern California. But he
never seriously considered a career in the cinema, and relocated to Seattle
to take up a post as a computer designer at the University of Washington.
In 1981 he returned to Taiwan to write and produce The Winter of 1905, a
film being made by a former student, Yu Weizheng. This prompted him to seek
further work in television, and in 1981 he personally directed Floating
Leaf, an episode from the television series Eleven Women.
The following year the Central Motion Picture Company, the state-controlled
production and distribution organisation, commissioned a portmanteau picture
called In Our Time, designed to put Taiwanese cinema on the map. It
consisted of four separate, but eventually connected, stories by different
directors. Yang's section, Expectations, depicted a girl on the threshold of
In Taiwanese terms it was commercially successful, tracing the process of
modernisation in the country from the 1960s to the 1980s and its gradual
transformation from a predominantly rural economy to an industrial one.
Edward Yang identified the importance of In Our Time when he described it as
"perhaps the first attempt in cinema to recover Taiwan's past, one of the
first films in which we began to ask ourselves questions about our origins,
our politics, our relation to mainland China, and so on".
A striking aspect of the Taiwanese new wave was the readiness of its leading
lights to co-operate with one another rather than compete. Hou Hsiao-hsien,
for example, took time out from his own fast-developing career as a director
to play the main role in Edward Yang's Taipei Story (1985). He went further
with its successor, The Terroriser (1986), mortgaging his own home to
finance his friend's picture. Three years later Yang repaid the compliment
by producing Hou's film A City of Sadness.
Yang's first feature film was That Day on the Beach (1983). Ambitious in
length and treatment, it made extensive use of flashbacks and voice-overs to
explore the heroine's life in metropolitan Taipei.
In essence it was a feminist picture, showing how a woman of strong
convictions with an iron will could challenge and prevail over the
constraints of a patriarchal society.
Taipei Story was an episodic survey of the progressive urbanisation of a
once rather sleepy city and the erosion of traditional values in the face of
consumerism. In this film the capital looks and feels brash, studded with
skyscrapers and inherently stressful. This was the film that introduced Yang
to a wider audience worldwide. His talent was immediately apparent, but
better work was yet to come - for example, his next film, The Terroriser.
After 9/11, the title has inadvertently acquired overtones that were never
intended, for this is a terroriser not a terrorist. It appears to refer to a
prostitute who phones strangers, spreading malice. The film shows how this
mindless prank affects a wide range of characters: a detective, a woman
novelist with writer's block, a photographer, a salaryman in a dead-end job,
It was as if Yang was deliberately taking a cross-section of Taiwanese
society and illustrating how urban pressures tear lives apart; in fact, it
can be inferred that the real terroriser is not the prostitute but modern
life itself. This remains Yang's most complex film, not least because he
leaves it open-ended. There are in fact multiple endings, in which a single
pistol shot has several different consequences.
It was some years before Yang made another film, but A Brighter Summer Day
was one of his finest. About a group of rebellious youths, its title is
taken from the Elvis Presley ballad Are You Lonesome Tonight? and Yang
admitted that to some extent it was autobiographical. The plot, however, is
based on an incident that shocked everyone in 1961, when a young boy,
suspended from school for joining a street gang, reacted in frustration and
murdered his girlfriend.
Yang's film is set in the early 1960s, when the children of the mainlanders
who came to Taiwan in 1949 were at odds with native-born Taiwanese youths,
and street fights were prevalent. A very long film, running almost four
hours, the length was justified by its penetrating analysis of the internal
conflicts between different strands of Taiwanese society at a time when the
island was in transition and in search of an identity; and after 237
minutes, the very last shot - of a tape carelessly thrown by the police into
a waste bin instead of being delivered to the prisoner for whom it is
intended - is riveting and profoundly moving.
Yang waited another four years before making his next film, but A Confucius
Confusion (1995, his first comedy, satirising the cultural chaos in modern
Taiwan, part Chinese, part pseudo-American) was not in the end as sharp as
its witty title. Similar criticisms were levelled at Mahjong (1996), another
ill-focused comedy about delinquents. But he made a spectacular comeback in
2000 with Yi Yi, a three-hour film at least as rich as A Brighter Summer
It follows three generations of a family caught between a wedding and a
funeral, and in particular the head of the family, who unexpectedly runs
into an old flame on the day his mother-in-law becomes mortally sick. Can
he - should he - try to turn the clock back?
Yi Yi explores all the characters in unusual depth. By the end it is as if
we had known them all our lives. It is another comedy, but with a generosity
of spirit missing in Yang's two previous pictures.
Edward Yang made no more films, but directed some plays and produced MTV
In later years he was based in Los Angeles but had been suffering for some
time with cancer of the colon, of which he died on June 29.