Since virtually inventing Asian-American cinema in 1982 with his film Chan Is Missing, Wayne Wang has built a curiously Frankensteinian body of work, mixing indie and commercial productions and spanning subjects as diverse as a lazy Brooklyn afternoon and the last days of pre-handover Hong Kong. Though films like Eat a Bowl of Tea and The Joy Luck Club defined his early career, Wang has, like Taiwanese contemporary Ang Lee, consciously evaded being pigeonholed as an Asian-American filmmaker, pursuing diverse projects.
In the mid-Nineties, his two concurrent collaborations with Paul Auster, Smoke and Blue in the Face, aligned his sensibility squarely with that of American indie luminaries like Jim Jarmusch and the Weinsteins; then, in seemingly another turnabout, he spent the next decade making an array of varied, if sometimes head-scratching commercial features: the Susan Sarandon-Natalie Portman mother-daughter film Anywhere But Here; the J.Lo-Ralph Fiennes rom-com Maid in Manhattan; the Queen Latifah terminal-illness movie Last Holiday; and Because of Winn-Dixie.
If these latter projects strike fans of his more independent fare as crass commercialism, Wang’s two new films – A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Princess of Nebraska, both adaptations of short stories by Yiyun Li — suggest not only a return to form but also the revival of an old theme from his early Asian-American dramedies: the different ways that certain generations translate and adapt their cultural heritage.
Click here to read the rest of Leo Goldsmith’s review of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.