Sunday, December 07, 2008

Yu Ming is Ainm Dom

My Name Is Yu Ming

Yu Ming is Ainm Dom (My Name is Yu Ming)
Directed by Daniel O'Hara, Ireland, 2003, 13 minutes.
Source: Google Video

I'm choosing My Name is Yu Ming as my quintessential film because of its length (a succinct 13 minutes), its intelligence and great sense of story (a bored Chinese student who dreams of a life elsewhere, chooses Ireland after a spin of the globe, and travels to his fate), its poignant music and extremes of color and light (which I think evoke a kind of sense of melancholy or even dream-like state to the proceedings), its twisty ending, and even for the possibilities it represents within the world of short film (an Irish production, mixing with Chinese language, focused on the promotion of Gaelic-toned art). It's one of my favorites of the term.

Raissa was the first to post on this and provided the key plot details, so I'd rather build on what makes this film so compelling. For starters, there's an undertone of magical realism to the film, of a boy on one side of the world opting for a trip through the transnational Looking Glass to search for his Magic Grail (the luck of the Irish?) At first, he only finds a sense of bafflement, and the filmmakers capture this perfectly by aligning two crucial scenes on either end of the planet. In China, Yu Ming practices his Gaelic while eating his lunch with chopsticks and then his "you talking to me?" lines in the mirror (all to some peppy music). Later, in Ireland, he's fumbling with a pair of faux metal chopsticks (his solution for the confounding newness of a fork and spoon) and uttering his Taxi Driver quote to a mute statue (as the music shifts to a sadder register). The effect of all this layering is to build a real sense of empathy with Ming, and a connection from his hopeful past to his gloomy present. Ming is also continually isolated from everyone in the film (his boss, the hostel clerk, the barman, and even the librarian, who expresses annoyance at his tampering with her precious globe) until he finds the sympathetic Paddy at the bar. He's the stranger in the strange land.

But there's also the deeper tones to My Name is Yu Ming, the reverberations of themes that echo beyond its short moment on the screen. There's the fascinating concept of a Chinese boy (an owner of the most spoken language in the world) attempting to learn one of the lesser-spoken languages of Western Europe, because of an assumption from an imperfect library book (a foible of our great, new communications age?) Then there's the film's look at the globalization patterns in the world that push many to seek an escape/a job/romance far away, and that in turn create a confusing amalgamation on the streets of any lonely city. Yu Ming isn't the only expat wandering about Dublin - there's an Aussie working the front desk of the hostel, and a Mongolian "Chinese" kid trying to get his money out of the soda machine. Even Paddy looks a bit lost in the bar, sitting apart with his thoughts - perhaps he's just another melancholic wanderer like Ming? The connection between the two is priceless, and comes at the perfect time in the film, 10 minutes in, when the audience is really starting to wonder what will come of all this.

I think there's also a great sense of hope for shorts when you consider the effect of this film on the young company that made it - Dough Productions, based in Dublin, won 18 awards with My Name is Yu Ming and now specializes in Gaelic-themed stories. The two other films on its website include Fluent Dysphasia, about a father who wakes up one day to find that he can only speak Irish (and thus connects with his daughter, who's studying it in school), and Paddywhackery, an ongoing series about a man, his Irish-language business ventures, and Peig Sayers, a Gaelic-speaking ghost character out of Ireland's schoolbooks. The low expenses, and exploratory possibilities, of short film, are what make this kind of culturally-rich film possible.

Erin Go Bragh, Yu Ming!

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