Monday, April 19, 2010

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

This is a sweet, funny, moving film.  I'm not sure I'd classify it as a comedy, but it's not a tear-jerker chick flick.  It's a movie for parents, husbands, wives, adult children.  There are a few laugh out loud moments, but mostly the humor comes from Mr Shi's experiences absorbing American life.

Mr. Shi (Henry O) has come to the U.S. from China to visit his daughter, who works at an American university and has recently divorced.  Appalled that she's not eating well, he cooks her traditional Chinese meals, causing me to crave Chinese food.  Mostly, though, he wants to get her to marry again.  Their interactions, and the revelations about her marriage's failure, as well as revelations about his marriage, provide the drama for A Thousand Years.  Shi's days spent learning about America while his daughter is at work provide the humor.

Shi frequents a local park, where he strikes up a friendship with another grandparent.  He meets Madam (we never learn her real name) at a park bench every day.  Madam, an Iranian, speaks Farsi, with a few scattered words of English, while Shi speaks Chinese, with a little English.  Their conversations, and the friendship they strke across their linguistic and cultural barriers, is entertaining yet touching.

On one occasion, a pair of Mormon missionaries drop by.  The portrayal of their earnest attempts to convey their beliefs, in spite of Shi's lack of understanding, does not mock their mission, yet seems to convery a sense of laughable humility.  It also gives occasion for Shi to defend his core belief in communism while acknowledging its failures: "Communist no bad. . . .Communist in bad hand."  Shi says, "Workers in the world, come together.  You free.  You have world.  You know who said this?"  They don't.  Shi replies, "Marx.  Engels."  Revealing either their ignorance or their lack of understanding through his accent, one of the missionaries asks, "Is he a Chinese wise man?"

The title comes from a Chinese proverb: "It takes 300 years of prayers to cross a river with someone.  It takes 3000 years of prayers to share a pillow with someone."  By extension, it takes a lot of prayer for a father and daughter to live together.  This movie is a beautiful reminder to approach our relationships, especially with our family, with prayer, humility, sacrifice, and a good sense of humor.  Highly recommended!

Bottom line, 3 stars.

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