Softening a father, grown-daughter conflict

Faye Wu and Henry O play an Americanized daughter and Chinese father struggling to connect across language, geographic and other barriers.
Faye Wu and Henry O play an Americanized daughter and Chinese father struggling to connect across language, geographic and other barriers.
Posted: November 21, 2008

Of the many bridges to cross, perhaps the shakiest is that separating parent from adult child.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, Wayne Wang's resonant character study of a retired Chinese scientist who visits his Americanized daughter in Spokane, Wash., reinforces this tenuous span with rivets of love.

Adapted for the screen by Yiyun Li from her own short story, Years is a keenly observed portrait of a parent and child estranged by geography, language, ideology and generation. In other words, a universal story of family in the age of globalization.

For the better part of Wang's calming film, so low-key that it gentles the nervous system like a deep-breathing exercise, cheery Dad (Henry O) takes tentative steps toward dour Daughter (Faye Yu), who backs away. Both are newly single: He a widower, she a divorcee.

Though his English is broken, Dad can communicate, mostly in lively semaphore, with the Iranian widow on the park bench, with the city bus driver, and the building super. Yet though Daughter speaks fluent Mandarin, Dad can't reach her. In the face of his attempts to attach, she detaches even more. To be in the same room with Dad is to suffocate.

In his best movie since The Joy Luck Club, Wang elicits performances of quiet power. Each scene is beautifully composed, backlight silhouetting the characters and their standoff. Gently, gently, gently it frames the most violent of emotions, and is all the more eloquent for that.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/

flickgrrl/.

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