A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERSNR
Filmed in Spokane, Washington, by the gifted director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club), (A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is a film that introduces America to Americans via its protagonist, Mr. Shi (Henry O), who is visiting his recently divorced daughter, Yilan (Faye Yu), for the first time. She lives in a pleasant middle-class apartment complex, surrounded by nice landscaping and a handsome park. Still, we cannot escape the fact that Mr. Shi, well into his 60s, is being deliberately shut out of his daughter’s life even as he seeks to participate in it. At first her exasperation seems petty and callow. Eventually, however, we learn that it has more to do with deep-seated shame and righteous indignation. There is much more to Yilan’s constant irritation than putting up with a meddling father and an ill-chosen lover, Boris (Pasha Lychnikoff).
In fact, cultural differences alone would be enough to exacerbate the father-daughter relationship, and after living in America for over a decade, Yilan has little sympathy with her Chinese past, and yet has not been altogether happy with the freedoms proffered by an American present.
Mr. Shi, lonely in the company of his confusing child, seeks a connection with strangers in the nearby park, and cultivates an Iranian woman’s friendship. This lady, Madame (Vida Ghahremani), is warm and sensitive. Still, the two of them can barely communicate. His native language is Chinese; hers is Farsi. Unfortunately, she has a relationship with her child more precarious than Mr. Shi’s. The theme of inability to communicate dominates the film…as different cultures, different languages and different times throw up real barriers in everyone’s lives.
Wang’s ability to reveal the sterility and desperation of ordinary lives is both honest and poignant. The pacing is slow and deliberate, and this tends to give each character a considerable amount of dignity. In fact, restraint is the order of the day—and even when we are introduced to Boris, the lovers are seen to be as depressed as they are desperate. There is not a moment of vulgarity or erotic sensation in the entire film. But a kind of peace—not without its limitations—is achieved by father and daughter. Mr. Shi, his curiosity whetted but not satiated by his troubled visit to his child, continues his exploration of America. His character is so charming, we wish we could join him.