COSMOPOLITAN to the core, 53-year-old Edward Yang, who's now based in Taipei, is drawn to modern stories set in large cities. "National borders are becoming less and less meaningful to me," he says. "It's strange to represent Taiwan at a film festival because I wouldn't say that Yi Yi is about contemporary Taiwan. It's more about contemporary city life.
"I'm not surprised that people in Seattle can identify with [it], because cities are getting more and more similar. Sometimes I find I have more in common with people thousands of miles away."
Strolling through the parlor of the Seven Gables Theater, Yang reminisces about seeing movies here in the '70s. He lived in Seattle from 1974 to 1981, right after he dropped out of film school. ("I felt like I didn't have any talent at all," he explains.) But even as he settled into an engineering job at the University of Washington, the would-be auteur followed the most available course for studying movies—frequenting local art houses to learn by watching. Yi Yi is the first of Yang's pictures to gain a commercial release in the United States; having made seven features since 1983, the award-winning director is overdue for a career retrospective.
For his next project, Yang is considering several scripts, including a police action story set here in Seattle. But whatever he chooses to pursue, we can be certain he won't be making an ornate period piece with traditional Chinese costumes. "I won't do any of those ethnic films. I think a lot of those movies give people the wrong idea about Chinese culture."
Not one to preach world unity, Yang knows that crosscultural ignorance is rampant and that a common Western misconception is that Asia is stuck in past traditions. He tells of an unfortunate gaffe at Cannes in 1994, when a Belgian journalist asked, at the end of a one-hour interview, why the director wasn't in his "native" costume. (Yang was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and cowboy boots.) "I was so pissed. I said, 'I bought these boots in Paris. You tell me why French people want American cowboy boots.'"