Everybody around here knows Benny & Joon, Mozart and the Whale — even Vision Quest — as filmed-in-Spokane movies. But when I dropped A Thousand Years of Good Prayers onto the counter at Blockbuster, the clerks had no idea of its Spokane provenance.
The film, directed here in 2007 by Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club), tells the story of an elderly Chinese man who comes to Spokane to visit his daughter. What the film doesn’t tell, though, is the more interesting part. It’s clear from his arrival at the airport that they share some deep pain, and that whatever it is has created an incurable separation between them.
Yilan, we learn over quiet, tense conversations at the dinner table, has changed during her years in America. Her father, Mr. Shi, has not, and he brings all his years in conservative, Communist Chinese society to the dinner table in her South Hill apartment. He hectors and pries, goes through her things while she’s away at work, tries to reconnect with her but realizes he’s lost her to a different world and a different generation.
In a poignant scene at the film’s climax, Wang frames father and daughter in adjacent rooms with a kind of split-screen effect as the elder Mr. Shi confesses his darkest secret. But we don’t know whether she hears him, or if he’s simply talking to himself.
It’s an interesting film but of course even more interesting for Spokane viewers, who get to see their city displayed in striking color. True, Yilan lives in the kind of characterless suburban apartment complex that could really be anywhere, but occasionally we get vivid tastes of the city.
Mr. Shi has a series of touching, broken conversations with an Iranian woman in what appears to be Cannon Hill Park. He visits an antique store on Division. Even The Inlander makes an appearance, as Mr. Shi, alone in his daughter’s apartment, leafs through the classifieds in a cloud of cultural confusion: “Man seeking man? Woman seeking woman?” he reads aloud.
Hauntingly quiet and often beautiful, A Thousand Years ought to be in the library of every Spokane cinema buff (Not Rated).