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Yang Yang
Chinese: 陽陽 Yang Yang
Sandrine Pinna
Year: 2009
Director: Cheng Yu-Chieh

Sandrine Pinna, Bryant Chang, Huang Chien-Wei, He Si-Hui, Shelly Yu, Zhu Lu-Hao

The Skinny: Intimate, observational direction lifts this character piece about one young woman's struggle with identity, love and belonging. Yang Yang doesn't do that much, but what it does, it does very well. Sandrine Pinna continues to impress.
Review: Golden Horse Best Actress nominee Sandrine Pinna (Miao Miao) continues her Taiwanese Cinema ascent in director Cheng Yu-Chiehís Yang Yang. The French-Chinese actress plays budding track star Zhang Xin-Yang, or Yang Yang for short. Yang Yang's mother (Shelly Yu) marries her track coach (Chu Lu-Hao), who then becomes Yang Yang's stepfather, with his daughter Xiao-Ru (He Si-Hui) becoming Yang Yang's stepsister. The two girls seem close, but their relationship possesses a hidden and ultimately damaging jealousy. Xiao-Ruís boyfriend Shawn (Bryant Chang of Eternal Summer) has a desire for Yang Yang and she bears some attraction in return. Feeling ashamed of her private betrayal of Xiao-Ru, Yang Yang nevertheless gives into her attraction, while also pledging that she and Shawn will never act upon their mutual desire again.

Unfortunately, not everyone follows Yang Yangís personal playbook, and circumstances turn spectacularly sour. Leaving her former life behind, Yang Yang enters the entertainment circle under the management of Ming-Ren (Huang Chien-Wei), a former student who once scouted Yang Yang in a slightly uncomfortable manner at the school track. The entertainment biz is not all happy times; Yang Yang gets attention for her Eurasian looks, but some of the attention is from sleazy producers looking for some casting couch advantages. As Yang Yang tentatively navigates her new life, Shawn seeks out Yang Yang, while she quietly seeks something else. Is it a return to track competition? Her long-lost Frenchman father? Love with Ming-Ren? Or is what Yang Yang seeks nothing more than minute, infinitesimal personal growth?

Yang Yang possesses a loaded storyline with a few developments that feel straight out of a television drama. However, the film never becomes the type of sudsy weepie that its plot developments might imply, with director Cheng eschewing glossy imagery for observational storytelling more in keeping with the film's indie roots. Cheng uses handheld camera and numerous long takes to give the film a real and also intimate feel. Dialogue is sparse and natural, with actions carrying more weight than words. There are occasional moments where the dialogue gets too self-aware, but itís the performances and characters that carry the film. Advancement of plot is done through character interaction, and the ultimate revelations are largely internal ones. Over the course of the film, the audience discovers who Yang Yang is and how, even through her mistakes and missteps, she grows as a person. That growth is not prominently announced, but it is felt, if only ever-so-slightly.

Writer-director Cheng previously worked with Sandrine Pinna in the 2006 film Do Over, and wrote Yang Yang specifically for his half-French, half-Asian star. That intent is reflected in the script; Pinnaís Eurasian qualities are a part and parcel of her character, and the film takes care to show how her ethnicity makes her special and also alone. The meta-reference to the film's star is not merely superficial; Pinna is a solid and even gifted actress, and she imbues her role with a compelling personality, appearing flawed, vulnerable and even admirable. Many of Yang Yangís positives can be found in how characters reveal themselves to the audience to be stronger or better than one might think, and itís a credit to Cheng that he can make that minor journey so engaging. The actual themes presented are nothing special, but the characters manage to be surprising, becoming far more compelling than the storyline should allow. Ultimately, however, Yang Yang is all about Sandrine Pinna, and she easily earns her billing as one of Taiwan's brightest young talents. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, 2009)

Availability: DVD (Taiwan)
Region 3 NTSC
Taisheng Multimedia
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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image credit: HKIFF Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen