The Taiwanese-born filmmaker Edward Yang, who passed away this past June at the age of 59, stood on the verge of possibly revitalizing cinema. In 2002, Sight & Sound magazine -- disappointed with the results of its every-ten-years poll of the all-time great films, conducted a new poll consisting exclusively of films made in the past 25 years, from 1978 to 2002. The entire top ten was made up of older films from the 1970s and 1980s, except for Scorsese's GoodFellas (1990), Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express (1994) and Yang's Yi Yi (2000). Yang's film was the only one from the 21st century to make the list, and since it was the only one of Yang's films to receive theatrical distribution in the West, that means that it's the only one that a majority of the voters had ever seen.
Yang completed only seven feature films and one short "segment" in his all-too brief career, and I've only managed to see two of them. Yi Yi topped my list of the year's best films the year I saw it -- and stands a good chance to do the same on my upcoming best-of-the-decade list. I also managed to see A Brighter Summer Day (1991), in its full four-hour version, thanks to a website called www.superhappyfun.com that sells a DVD-R dupe of an old laserdisc for only $16. The picture is scratched and the subtitles leave a bit to be desired, but this film is even more complex and intriguing than Yi Yi. Set over the course of most of a year in 1961, A Brighter Summer Day deals with a subculture of Mainland Chinese who fled to Taiwan after the victory of the Chinese Communists in 1949. A printed introduction explains that their children are now living in a state of uncertainty and have taken to forming street gangs for a sense of safety and control.