A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers Movie Review
In a generic condo block outside of Spokane, Washington, elderly Chinese man Mr. Shi (Henry O) is reuniting with his adult and fully Americanized daughter Yilan (Fiehong Yu) for their first visit together in a long time. Although Mr. Shi is a stranger in a strange land, he is eager to improve his English and learn about American culture. Yilan, however, is having none of it. Though she goes through the motions of being happy to see her father, she is clearly distressed by his arrival, leaving him alone most of the time and dismissing his attempts at conversation. Something's not quite right between these two. As some critics have pointed out, there are echoes here of Ozu's gut-wrenching Japanese masterpiece Tokyo Story, in which elderly parents from the sticks come to the city to visit their grown children only to be patronized, ignored, and ultimately disposed of.
To ease his boredom, Mr. Shi takes walks in the park, where he meets an aging Iranian immigrant he calls Madam (Vida Ghahremani). With only a few words of English in common, the two struggle valiantly to communicate, and very slowly we begin to get a few details. Husband? No. Son? Yes. Baby. Grandma. I love America. Son have big house, big car. It's that kind of interaction.
In fact, Mr. Shi has a lot more fun talking to Madam with a few words of English than he does talking to his difficult daughter in Chinese. Clearly there are deep-seated issues that go way back and that Yilan is not at all that eager to dredge up. While her father seems to be in an apologetic mood, he also doesn't hold back when criticizing Yilan for her failed marriage and urging her to find another man before it's too late. Chinese, American, or whatever, no daughter wants to have that conversation with her dad.
Wang succeeds in building some suspense. Will these two find any mutual forgiveness before Yilan shoves her dad on a train and sends him out to tour America? What do parents owe their children, and what do children owe their parents? Well-written, beautifully shot, and meticulously acted (Henry O is utterly authentic from his badly buckled belt to his stooped posture), this is the kind of indie we expect from a director of Wang's caliber.
Another year won't kill 'em.