Edward Yang, one of the leading figures in the new wave of Taiwanese cinema and winner of the Cannes Film Festival best director prize in 2000 for his most celebrated film, “Yi Yi,” died June 29 of complications from colon cancer at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 59.
Yang was diagnosed with the disease in July 2000 and moved to Southern California in 2005 for special treatment after the cancer spread to his liver and a lung.
For the last several years, he had been preparing a $25 million animated kung fu film, “The Wind,” with co-producer Jackie Chan.
Born in Shanghai, Yang moved with his family to Taiwan when the communists took over China two years later. He received a master’s degree in engineering at the University of Florida, then pursued his longtime interest in cinema by enrolling at the USC film school. Put off by the commercial orientation of the program, however, he left after one semester and rejoined his family in Seattle to work as a computer engineer.
After three years, his excitement for film was re-ignited by Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” and he returned to Taiwan to take up a career in the growing local film industry. In 1981 he wrote and co-produced “The Winter of 1905” and made a strong impression with “Desires,” his episode for the portmanteau film “In Our Time.”
His 1983 directorial feature debut, “That Day, On the Beach,” was a success, as was “Taipei Story” two years later. Latter co-starred Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Hou and Yang soon emerged as the leading lights of the Taiwanese new wave, with Hou specializing in rural stories and Yang making his name with his analytical and sometimes satirical studies of urban Taipei life.
Gradually gathering an international following, Yang won the Silver Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival for “The Terrorizer” in 1986 and won widespread acclaim and numerous awards for “A Brighter Summer Day” in 1991.
Working less frequently than most of his fellow Asian directors, Yang followed with “A Confucian Confusion” in 1994 and “Mahjong” in 1996, then scored his greatest triumph with “Yi Yi,” which carried the English title “A One and a Two.” Three-hour multilayered family drama won many awards, including best picture nod from the National Society of Film Critics and foreign film prizes from the New York and Los Angeles film critics associations.
He is survived by his wife, concert pianist Kaili Peng, a son, sister and brother.