Tonight, the World has Lost a Great Artist

For the last few years, I have been hoping and hoping for another film by Edward Yang, who directed what has become one of the greatest treasures in my film library: Yi-Yi (A One and a Two).

But tonight, Edward Yang passed away.


The news breaks my heart. He was only 59. (Peter Chattaway alerted me to the news.) I did not know it, but he was sick for seven years.

To watch Yang’s work was to see the world through the eyes of a man who delighted in children, who sympathized deeply with the passions and burdens of teenagers, who wrestled with the demands of adulthood, and who was pained by the dehumanizing effects of progress and the big city. His movies focused on Taiwan, but they were not primarily about Taiwan. They were about humankind.

They were about looking closer. Just as the young boy in Yi-Yi (appropriately named Yang-Yang) runs around with his first camera photographing the backs of people’s heads so they can see what they otherwise could not, so Yang did just that: he captured life in a way that allowed us to see what we would otherwise miss about our behavior, our choices, the blindness that afflicts us incrementally, and the longing we all share for the restoration of something pure.

Oh, and yes… he clearly loved jazz.

I have seen very few films that can compare to Yi-Yi in conveying such a deep understanding of the beauty and wonder of life. Yang’s canvas was the big screen, but he was a painter. His medium was the movies, but he was a poet.

Just as I still do when I think of Krzysztof Kieslowski, I will always wonder what Yang might have shown us if he had lived a little longer.

For me, this is one of those wounds that won’t heal.

Time to get out the Criterion edition of Yi-Yi… to laugh and gasp and be amazed. And mourn.

UPDATE: More (via GreenCine Daily): A detailed bio at Sight and Sound, and an interview via The Guardian.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.