Home Movie Vault Disc Vault Coming Soon Join Our Mailing List Articles Partners About Us Contest
  Publicity Stills of "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles"
(Courtesy from Columbia TriStar)

Genre: Drama
Director: Zhang Yimou
Starring: Takakura Ken, Terajima Shinobu, Nakai Kiichi
RunTime: 1 hr 47 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: PG

Opening Day: 25 May 2006 (Opens in Singapore exclusively at the Picturehouse)

Synopsis :

For the first time in many years, TAKATA Gou-ichi (TAKAKURA Ken) takes the bullet train to Tokyo from the quiet fisherman’s village where he lives on the northwest coast of Japan. His daughter-in-law, Rie (TERAJIMA Shinobu) had telephoned to tell him that his son, Ken-ichi (NAKAI Kiichi) is seriously ill, and asking for his father.

But when he arrives in the city, Takata finds that Rie was not entirely truthful: Ken-ichi has been hospitalized, but after years of painful estrangement, he still refuses to see Takata. Crushed, the old man quietly slips out of the hospital, but not before Rie gives him a videotape to watch. What Takata sees on the tape, Rie hopes, will help him get to know his son again.

Takata plays the tape and learns that Ken-ichi is studying a form of Chinese exorcising drama that dates back more than a thousand years. Ken-ichi had traveled all the way to Yunnan Province in Southern China to see the famous actor LI Jiamin perform, but the actor was ill and unable to sing. Li promised to sing the legendary song ‘Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles’ from the literary classic, ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ for Ken-ichi if he returns to Yunnan the following year.

Hoping to bridge the gap between himself and his son, Takata decides to find Li Jiamin and videotape his performance for the dying Ken-ichi. As the old man begins an odyssey into the heart of China, he encounters a number of strangers who colour his journey -- from well-meaning translators who guide him through China’s idiosyncrasies, to prison wardens anxious to promote Chinese culture abroad, to a young runaway with a complicated father-son relationship of his own.

What Takata discovers on his journey is kindness… and a sense of family he thought he had lost long ago.

Movie Review:

Sometimes, when a director has achieved a certain level of success, his aesthetic spark and cinematic acumen degenerate into the kind of overindulgence that betrays the filmmaker’s obsession with stringing together another hit. With the triumphs of “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers” tucked safely in his back pocket, the onus was on Zhang Yimou to produce another masterpiece. That he has done with “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles,” but more worthy of mention is how he did it – by committing to a small-budget, focusing on a heartfelt story and doing just what he does best, directing.

What is most striking about “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” is it is such a simple film, so simple and accessible that it’s almost offensive to brand it as “arthouse” - a term nearly synonymous with “lofty” or “unfathomable”. Simple but not without depth, the richness of character and story as well as the masterful treatment of beautiful themes in the film is truly testament of director Zhang Yimou’s every professional acclaim. More than a story about an estranged pair of father and son, “Riding…” additionally revolves around the theme of expressing and understanding feelings, the distinct awkwardness of which perhaps more resonant and poignant in the Asian context. Filming largely in the sprawling landscape of Yunnan, the film also explores Chinese culture and customs, touches on communication and translation and, among all these, still finds time to be surprisingly comical. It is an undoubtedly enormous task, but trust Zhang to pull it off with seeming composure and ease. What results is a fluid and deceptively simple film: if a word could sum up Zhang’s work, it would be ‘harmony.’

Takakura Ken plays Takata Gou-ichi, a reclusive fisherman living peacefully in the northwest coast of Japan. Upon receiving news from his daughter-in-law Rie (Terajima Shinobu) of his son Ken-ichi’s (Nakai Kiichi) hospitalization, he travels to Tokyo under the false impression that his estranged son has requested to see him. Rie was the one who’d invited him. The scene of Takata shuffling his feet outside the hospital ward, overhearing his son refuse to see him, is among the most visceral in a film packed with quiet emotional punches. It is a straightforward long shot of Takakura Ken that immediately conveys loneliness, the sting of rejection, the unknown hurt driving father and son apart and sadness. Sadness of knowing nothing has changed, sadness of having harboured naïve hopes that things might have changed. The absence of a confrontation between Ken-ichi and Takata is, to me, intensely Asian. Not to mention, it is far more effective by omitting shots of the seriously ill Ken-ichi. Indeed, throughout the film, what is left unseen and unsaid consistently has far more significance and emotional weight than what is visible and audible.

Before Takata leaves Tokyo for home, Rie hands him a tape of Ken-ichi’s solitary trip to Yunnan a year ago, when he had missed the chance to hear the famous actor Li Jiamin perform the song ‘Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles’. After watching the tape, Takata learns that Li had promised to perform for Ken-ichi if he returned a year later and so spontaneously decides to leave for China to track down Li and obtain the reel his now dying son had failed to. This might come across as an absurd stretch of storyline but be patient, and the film will persuade you that if you were Takata, you would have done the same. Watch out for the ironically amusing scene where Takata pleads for help from the Chinese officials who are the only ones who can help him find Li. It is a masterpiece of a scene, once again deceptively simple in conception and construction. Suffice to say it involves Takata speaking from a pre-recorded video as his guileless local guide translates – you wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) miss it.

To say that Takakura Ken is superb in his role would be an understatement. There is a palpable connection between Takakura, Zhang and the film that is indispensable to the success of “Riding…”. Moreover, Zhang’s decision to employ first-time actors for most of the native Chinese roles was a risk that paid off handsomely. As Takata slowly progresses in his search for Li, he encounters countless locals, each character as vibrant as the next and all overwhelmingly, selflessly helpful. There’s a feeling as you leave the theatre that you’ve actually met all these people for they are so genuine the film could as easily have been a documentary.

One particular character that stands out is Takata’s guide, Qiu Lin, who translates in a mixture of English and Japanese, both of which confound Takata completely to the audience’s amusement. Regardless, Qiu is devastatingly sincere – before he begins to translate the video, he cheerily pipes, “I’ve rehearsed for hours,” as though it were his duty to do so. Such intensity is a common stereotype of the Chinese and the film definitely milks it but I agree with the filmmakers on this call; it is almost a Chinese (and indeed, Asian) prerogative to be earnestly fraternal and passionately loud, more often than not over a charming feast. At a farewell meal thrown for Takata in a village where he’d received help, the stoic man marvels at the manner with which he has been embraced by these strangers and finally immerses himself – in life, in emotions and in relationships. It is there in the little village miles away from Tokyo that he begins to bridge the gap between Ken-ichi and himself.

There is also a lyrical parallel to be drawn between the two men as it is assumed that Takata sees what Ken-ichi must have one year ago. As he is taking in the scenic mountains of Yunnan, Takata narrates that he finally understands why his equally introverted son loved visiting China alone: it gave him an excuse to withdraw. Hence for father and son their deepest insecurities are the same; the lonely valleys reassure them in the same way – it’s better to feel like an outsider in a strange country than in your own home. But Takata goes one step further than his son and gains self-revelation when he decides to help Li to find his own estranged son. When Takata finally accepts Li Jiamin’s request to sing for him, recording the performance is no longer for Ken-ichi’s purposes or Takata’s own but completely for Li. He understands that Li needs to sing for him because it’s the only thing he can do to commensurately repay Takata. The old Takata would not have stayed. The new Takata listens with his heart.

The film is filled with such scenes, each exquisitely concocted to convey every possible message of culture, relationship and communication, then topped off with a dose of lighthearted humour. Every shot is so rich that the film is simply unending layers of the filmmakers’ toil and thought, sewn together seamlessly by Zhang, who manages to imbue every second of “Riding…” with his commanding direction. Yet there is no hint – not even a whisper – of over-production on Zhang’s part, his directing work in “Riding…” is the epitome of restraint and grace. He is so attuned to his vision that he does exactly what’s needed, nothing more or less, and he does it all with natural, breathtaking brilliance. Some people are just born with it.

Movie Rating:

(Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” is like a rippling effect – at the heart is direction so infectious that the film forms concentrically and gently caresses you like a pulse. You *have* to see it to understand)

Review by Angeline Chui


DISCLAIMER: Images, Textual, Copyrights and trademarks for the film and related entertainment properties mentioned
herein are held by their respective owners and are solely for the promotional purposes of said properties.
All other logo and design Copyright©2004-2006, movieXclusive.com™
All Rights Reserved.