A Thousand Years of Good Prayers


Rating: NR

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Released: Sept 19, 2008


Reviewed by Sara Michelle Fetters


Quietly Profound Thousand Years an Answered Prayer


Retired elderly father Mr. Shi (Henry O.) has come to America to visit his recently single daughter Yilan (Faye Yu) at her Spokane, Washington home. She is lonely, withdrawn and sullen, and he hopes his arrival can help her sort out all the wrongness in his daughter’s life ever since her divorce, doing his best to try and engage her in conversation and making lavish home cooked dinners each evening.


Faye Yu and Henry O. in Magnolia Pictures' A Thousand Years of Good Prayers


Yilan is not interested in this assistance. The distance between them created during her childhood is not something that can be overcome with just a few kind words and couple of hot meals. Unable to understand why, Mr. Shi takes to spending long hours sitting in a nearby park conversing with a fellow parent, herself an immigrant from Iran, he knows only as Madam (Vida Ghahremani).


Quiet, introspective and thought-provoking, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is the best film director Wayne Wang has made in ages, at least since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club and probably since 1989’s Eat a Bowl of Tea. This is a small, intimate movie made on a minimal scale (and even a more miniscule budget). It is a story of communication, or rather the lack of it, the yearning left by its absence a hole uneasy to see filled even if all the parties involved eagerly want to see it happen.


Screenwriter Yiyun Li (working from her own collection of short stories) has done a masterful job of making this minimalist storyline feel fresh and alive. The shifting landscapes traveled by Yilan and Mr. Shi were ones I could relate to and understand, and after the former discovers the latter rifling through her room dissecting her life and investigating her secrets her reactions were ones I could easily stand behind.


The irony is that I could also just as fully relate to her father’s need to be informed, his desperate yearning to help. Parental love, even when it is misguided (and maybe even a bit unfocused), is arguably the strongest emotion on the face of the planet. So many moms and dads, the good ones at least, have this innate need to protect their children against all dangers both real or imagined, personal privacy be damned.


There is a bit of cultural divide here I couldn’t entirely get through. The full weighty fury of the Cultural Revolution in China is one that, almost embarrassingly, is lost on me, and for all of Wang’s gifts as a storyteller this is one aspect of the melodrama that never felt fully realized. There is also a decided tidiness to the resolution, no matter how nondescript it appears, that just didn’t feel genuine, and even though I respected what the filmmaker was trying to say he just doesn’t quite get there.


Still, this is a marvelous little picture making these faults almost seem minor. I was completely captivated from the very first frame, and much like Zhang Yimou’s Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles and Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring there is a timelessness to this generational saga that's borderline shattering, but never in a way that feels catastrophic or tragic. I wanted to see more of these two characters, was eager to discover if the past could be put behind them and if a validating future of acceptance and understanding could hopefully be achieved, Wang handiling it all with an even hand that's cofident and true.


“If you grew up in a language in which you never leaned to express your feelings,” admits Yilan to her father, “it would be easier to talk in a new language.” It is this sort of disengagement and rebirth that A Thousand Years of Good Prayers understands, and it is this familial story of regret and forgiveness it honestly, sometimes even blissfully, tells. A wonderful film, Wang has regained his footing as a filmmaker and produced a story worthy of discovery.

Film Rating: êêê (out of 4) 

Additional Links:

-  A Thousand Years of Good Prayers Theatrical Trailer



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Review posted on Sep 19, 2008 | Share this article | Top of Page

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