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With: Henry O, Feihong Yu, Pavel Lychnikoff, Vida Ghahremani
Written by: Yiyun Li, based on her stories
Directed by: Wayne Wang
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Mandarin, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 83
Date: 09/09/2007

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Long Talk

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After years of maneuvering the Hollywood waters with variable results, San Francisco director Wayne Wang returns to the low-budget Chinese-American subjects that initially brought him success. His new A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is a refreshingly small, delicate picture about a father, Mr. Shi (Henry O), who comes to the United States to visit his grown, divorced daughter Yilan (Faye Yu). From the moment they meet in the airport, their behavior indicates a troubled history. This leads to strained conversations in her home, or silence. (She retreats to the kitchen to cook, and seems taken aback when he joins her.) Mr. Shi takes to cooking all the meals in Yilan's apartment, but she keeps finding bigger excuses for staying away. Meanwhile, Mr. Shi explores his surroundings and befriends an Iranian woman in a local park (they converse in broken English). Shi enjoys many such conversations with several locals -- including one with a hot, blonde bikini girl -- while Yilan seems more closed-off. She only speaks honestly to her lover, a married Russian man, and even then she seems lost and frustrated. Wang presents all this with an Ozu-like intimacy and smallness, focusing on still shots held a medium distance. The point is that, despite all the newly mixed cultures of the world and all the various languages and accents, communication is never a given. But Wang never hammers anything home; he allows his story to unfold rather than forcing it. Wang has directed a second feature, also based on short stories by Yiyun Li, but The Princess of Nebraska makes its debut October 17, 2008 on -- of all places -- YouTube. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers opens this week in theaters.

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