Wayne Wang’s Immigrant-Experience Story A Thousand Years of Good Prayers


As an escape from the Hollywood machine that hired him for products like Maid in Manhattan and Last Holiday, filmmaker Wayne Wang returns to his roots with a personal immigrant-experience story like those he told early in his career (Chan Is Missing, Dim Sum). Adapted by Yiyun Li from her collection of Chinese-American short stories, Wang’s sharply lensed A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is so buoyant and decidedly modest in tone and scale that you almost believe it might float away from the screen. A self-proclaimed “rocket scientist,” retired widower Mr. Shi (Henry O, a convivial composite of Down by Law‘s note-taking tourist Roberto Benigni with the slouchy, Magoo-ish demeanor of Monsieur Hulot) arrives in small-town America to visit his divorced daughter, Yilan (Faye Yu), after a dozen years apart. While the exasperated Yilan spends most days avoiding her pop and his culturally/generationally misguided attempts to rescue her, Mr. Shi ventures out to lap up the local flavor, chatting up random shopkeepers, sunbathers, and Mormons. Most memorable are his park-bench visits with an old Iranian woman, each enjoying the other’s company without speaking the same dialect (smartly, the scenes aren’t subtitled). There’s nothing earth-shattering going on here, but it’s a film you’ll want to befriend.