Opening 10 Apr 2008
Mr. Shi travels from China to visit his daughter Yilan in Spokane, Washington. They have had little contact over the years, but Mr. Shi senses a state of emergency when he hears that Yilan has divorced her Chinese husband. Now, Yilan lives alone, has a profession, and dates a married man from Russia. She is less than eager to welcome her father and finally tries to avoid him all together. Mr. Shi becomes acquainted with the American way of life, although his best friend is an Iranian immigrant woman his own age, who proudly reports that her son is a doctor with a big house and a big car who has brought her to the U.S.
Director Wayne Wang has made a slow-paced, but never boring, film, based on a short story of the same name by Yiyun Li. Any expatriate can relate to the film’s sense of speechlessness in a foreign environment and any human being can relate to the sense of loneliness due to lack of communication. Yilan says, “You don’t understand, Papa. If you never learned to express your feelings in your native tongue, then it’s easier in a new language. One turns into a different person.” In this case, the Chinese respect for elders also prevents Yilan from speaking her true mind, but in the end, both reveal secrets of their lives and eventually come together. An Iranian cinematographer, who saw the film with me, said it was typical of Iranians who move abroad to emphasize the material aspects of their new lives. Wang films with Chinese actors, but also with amateurs such as the girl at the swimming pool who really was looking for a job, a manager of the apartments who really was a former CIA agent, and real Mormons who visited the house. The knife in the antique shop really was used by General Custer in his last battle. I saw the film in Mandarin, Farsi, and English, which effectively emphasized the differences in communication. Wang has a wide range of film topics, e.g., Manhattan Love Story, Smoke, or Eat a Bowl of Tea, and this is definitely a successful addition to his oeuvre. (Becky Tan)