For Wang's 'Good Prayers,' A Merely Modest Result

Faye Yu i i

Complaints of a diffident daughter: Life gets complicated for a Chinese-American divorcee (Faye Yu) when her distant dad drops in. Magnolia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Magnolia Pictures
Faye Yu

Complaints of a diffident daughter: Life gets complicated for a Chinese-American divorcee (Faye Yu) when her distant dad drops in.

Magnolia Pictures

A Thousand Years
of Good Prayers

  • Director: Wayne Wang
  • Genre: Drama, Romance
  • Running Time: 83 minutes

Unrated; adult themes, but acceptable for all audiences.

Henry O and Vida Ghahremani i i

Neglected by his daughter, Beijing-born Mr. Shi (Henry O) strikes up a park-bench friendship with a neighbor (Vida Ghahremani). Magnolia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Magnolia Pictures
Henry O and Vida Ghahremani

Neglected by his daughter, Beijing-born Mr. Shi (Henry O) strikes up a park-bench friendship with a neighbor (Vida Ghahremani).

Magnolia Pictures

Sooner or later, parent and child must acknowledge how they've disappointed each other. Perhaps the awkward exchange can be avoided in real life, but not in the films of Wayne Wang. The Hong Kong-born American director keeps returning to that moment, whether in big-budget flicks like The Joy Luck Club or in tiny ones like A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.

Everything about this movie is modest. It has only two central characters, was shot on digital video, runs less than 90 minutes and is set in a colorless Spokane, Wash.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but the movie's charm is also slender. Wang's latest is likable, but far less engaging than his earlier Chinese-American family chronicles, such as Dim Sum — A Little Bit of Heart.

Adapted by scripter Yiyun Li from her own story, the tale begins at the Spokane airport, where Yilan (Faye Yu) meets her widowed father, Mr. Shi (Henry O), who's arriving from Beijing.

Father and daughter haven't seen each other in 12 years, but neither reveals deep emotion. While Shi hopes to become closer to Yilan, she plans only to treat him with proper respect while counting the minutes until he again departs her life.

By day, Yilan takes the bus downtown, where she's a college librarian. At night, the divorced woman works at repairing a troubled romance that she tries to hide from her father.

Left alone at his daughter's suburban apartment complex, Shi turns to preparing elaborate Chinese dinners that don't suit Yilan's Americanized taste or schedule. And at a nearby park, he develops a friendship with another immigrant — an Iranian-born grandmother who chatters mostly in Persian, while he speaks primarily Chinese. They seem to understand each other, but it's less clear that they comprehend their own situations.

Ultimately, Shi and Yilan have the conversation they've been avoiding. It's not much of a catharsis, however, either for them or for the viewer. The secrets aren't all that dark, and their confessions don't bridge the void between them. If it takes a thousand years of good prayers to reconcile father and daughter, Shi and Yilan barely get started.

The film's most engaging scenes are those in which the genial Shi encounters such everyday American oddballs as a pair of puppyish Mormon missionaries — he responds by quoting the Communist Manifesto — and a bikini-wearing blonde who wants to become a forensic pathologist. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers doesn't deliver a major emotional payoff, but it does provide some gently amusing vignettes.

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