Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers


Review by David Tredler

Wayne Wang has been off my radar for quite a few years. When a Hong Kong-born filmmaker spends almost a decade directing Hollywood trifles such as Anywhere but Here, Maid in Manhattan, Because of Winn-Dixie and Last Holiday, it seems he has chosen to take a path incompatible with the arthouse crowd that used to be his core audience.  Years later, though, Wang comes back to his indie roots, with simplicity and talent.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers tells of the reunion of a father and his daughter. She left China years ago to settle in a U.S. suburb, leaving her culture, her roots and her family behind her. He has never come to visit her, never seen that big American country… until now. For the first time, Mr. Shi visits his daughter Yilan, finding a woman who has embraced her country of adoption.

A Thousand Years may disconcert some people by its classicism. With a calm that becomes rare, Wayne Wang describes a confrontation. A confrontation of cultures, between Orient and Occident, through a father and a daughter that have almost nothing left in common after years of separation. She has divorced and wants to move on with her life; he still does not understand why she divorced in the first place. She is an active woman, coming home late at night to eat alone; he walks around all day, discovering a new country and its inhabitants. She sees her life in the US as the ultimate freedom, while he is faced there with injustice and boredom.

There is no action in A Thousand Years; no surprises, except for unusual encounters between the old Chinese man and a woman from Iran, who regularly meet in a park and chat, each in his/her language, and yet each understanding each other (reminding of those brilliant scenes in Ghost Dog between Forest Whitaker and Isaach de Bankolé). Wang tells his story steadily, a simple, touching human tale of growing distance, and along the way achieves to prove that there is no need for big effects and visual ambition to touch an audience.

Weirdly, Wang’s film is released alone, while it is clearly part of a diptych accompanied by another film entitled The Princess of Nebraska. In the past, Wang had already tried his hand at directing films back-to-back around a similar theme, like he did with Smoke and Blue in the Face. Those two films were different reflections of the same subject (namely, life in Brooklyn). Likewise, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Princess of Nebraska come from a similar desire to portray on film the gap between cultures. In A Thousand Years, it’s a father and a daughter sharing their roots but not their current lifestyle. In Nebraska, it’s a young Chinese girl studying in the U.S., who travels to San Francisco to get an abortion and discovers life on the West coast.

Where the first film is classic and calm, Nebraska is unexpected, almost experimental and melancholy. A Thousand Years is an easier film to love, but Nebraska is more haunting.   It is a pity Magnolia Pictures is not releasing both films at the same time. They complete each other perfectly.

3 / 5 stars

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