A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers

A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers


Reviewed by: George Williamson

Sometimes it's easier to understand a foreign conversation with a stranger, than it is to speak in your mother tongue with your family.

Mr Shi (Henry Oh) has come to America to visit his daughter Yilan (Faye Yu), who's been working in the US for twelve years. Mr Shi is a normal father; he only means well for his daughter. Alas, when he starts to offer his advice and opinions on her lifestyle she decides to avoid him for the duration of his trip. But he won't waste the visit and ends up having a range of halting, gesture laden discourses with a variety of individuals; the sun-worshipping forensic scientist, the ex-CIA pool guy, the Native American antique dealer, Mormon bible thumpers and Madam, an elderly Iranian refugee.

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A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers manages to explore an uncomfortable situation and be very funny at the same time. The tension between father and daughter is one of unspoken questions and the acute embarrassment of the young when dealing with their parents. It's clear that their pleasantries at the start of the film are concealing past problems, tiptoeing around painful subjects that neither wishes to broach. Fortunately, while this could have resulted in a tedious film of overly long meaningful glances and introspective walks, the interactions between Mr Shi and the residents of his daughter's housing complex are both touching and amusing.

After his abandonment Mr Shi ambles between a variety of locations and has short and illuminating conversations with the people he meets. This could be an opportunity for cruel Borat-style comedy of misunderstanding, but Wayne Wang's film avoids this neatly; Mr Shi is troubled by the strangeness of some of the Americans that he meets, but it's because they actually are all quite odd people, and he always tries to empathise with his partners. The conversations are beautiful to watch; the careful gesturing accompanied by limited English is charming and received with near universal friendliness, but also bemusement. It's only when he meets an elderly Iranian woman who speaks as little English as he does, that the conversations start to have real meaning and turn to the infinitely complicated subject of family.

However while the lighter sections are wonderful to watch, the film doesn't fare as well when dealing with more serious portions of the story. While Henry O and Faye Yu are both fine actors the last section of the film grinds along very slowly as the inevitable confrontation occurs. This is partly due to the suddenness of the shift to the more sober tone and the revelations which are aired, but mostly because the dialogue is so much less animated. Perhaps the title A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers, which refers to a penance needed to redeem one's soul for sinful deeds, is meant to represent this section of the film - atonement for the frivolous nature of the earlier scenes.

While A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers isn't as good as Smoke or Dim Sum it's certainly better than most of Wang's recent films, and far better than its companion piece, The Princess Of Nebraska.

Reviewed on: 01 Jul 2008
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A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers packshot
Cultural and generational gaps explored by aging Chinese man visiting his daughter.

Director: Wayne Wang

Writer: Yiyun Li, Yiyun Li, Michael Ray

Starring: Henry O, Pavel Lychnikoff, Feihong Yu, Vida Ghahremani, Wes Deitrick, Angela Dierdorff Petro, Liz Mathews, Ryan Sanson, Trent Sweeney, Patrick Treadway, Lonny W. Waddle

Year: 2007

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: USA


EIFF 2008

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