A Thousand Years of Good Prayers Directed by Wayne Wang Reviewed: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

Long-Distant Caller: Prayers’ Yilan can’t connect with her father.

A universe of regret, loneliness, and unease can exist between two family members sitting at a dinner table—especially when one of those people is visiting from a foreign country, experiencing his daughter’s adopted home for the first time. Such tension soaks the short story that Wayne Wang’s A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is adapted from; stretched to feature-film length, however, the emptiness felt by Yiyun Li’s characters doesn’t seem as much the result of an emotional void than a too-thin plot. Still, several moments in this 83-minute wisp of a movie are touching and truthful. Yilan (Faye Yu) is a Chinese woman in her 30s who has made a typical if not exactly happy life for herself in suburban America since leaving Beijing 12 years ago: She’s got a 9-to-5 at a law library, an apartment in a manicured subdivision, and a complicated love life since divorcing her husband. After her mother dies, Yilan’s father, Mr. Shi (Henry O), comes for a short stay, eager to work on his English—he carries a little notebook—and reconnect. He senses his only child isn’t happy, but because he apparently was never a contender for Father of the Year, his ministrations prove ineffective. Yilan’s response to the former rocket scientist’s concern is to make up reasons to go out every night and claim she’s in too much of a hurry to eat the nice breakfast he’s made. Shi passes the time by snooping around her bedroom, talking to the neighbors (one of the most charming scenes shows him excitedly talking to a young blond forensics student, while trying to avoid looking at her bikini’d bod), and making friends with an Iranian woman he knows as Madam (Vida Ghahremani), whom he meets at the park. The latter quickly goes from cute to infuriating as they both struggle to converse in English and often express their thoughts in their native language first. O’s Shi is earnest, sad, and inquisitive, yet you eventually lose patience listening to expository dialogue such as, “Daughter? Close to mama. I make rocket? We no talk.” And though the silence between Shi and Yilan that later turns into a flood of accusations and amends at the film’s end feels realistic, it’s so rushed and the details are so melodramatic that the scene plays like a soap-opera recap. It’s too much, too late.

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