Sometimes you pick up a film at random and are just plain blown away. We rented Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles on a whim: we liked foreign films, and lately have been picking up a lot of very good Chinese movies. This looked like an interesting one, so we decided to give it a shot.
We were familiar with the work of director Zhang Yimou -- and you might be, too. He made two impressive martial arts films, Hero and The House of Flying Daggers, movies that had a great deal of depth in among the action. However, we didn't recognize the name (all Chinese might not look alike, but Chinese names are often hard for westerners to grasp). That might have been a good thing, since the film is much different, one that concentrates on character instead of plot, with nary a bit of violence. In fact, everyone in the film is just so nice. That's very refreshing.
Takakura Ken (I'm sticking with the Chinese tradition of putting the family name first, though he's also been billed at Ken Takakura) plays Mr. Takata, a man estranged from his dying son. The son was a documentarian, and, in a film he made, he talked about going to China to see a local singer perform the Chinese Opera that gives the film its title. Takata decides to travel to China to film the performance. But there are problems. . . .
This is a film that is clearly an unfolding. Takata's journey takes him to a small village in Yunnan Province in southwestern China and a meeting with the singer's five-year-old son, Yang Yang. In it Takata learns more about people, himself, his own son, and his life.
Takakura Ken is superb as Takata, a taciturn man who goes upon this journey to try to connect. The rest of the cast were not professional actors, but you'd never know it. Especially good is Zhembo Yang as Yang Yang and Lin Qiu as Lingo, Takata's guide and non-interpreter.
The film also deals with an issue you rarely see: language barriers. Takata speaks no Chinese and is dependent on others to translate and understand others. Lingo (interesting coincidence of a name) knows very little Japanese and is always struggling to figure out what Takata is saying. It manages to work out with some strategic cell phone calls to a real interpreter, Jasmine (Jiang Weng). The barrier is constant, but Takata manages to work his way around the country.
The film is beautiful, with some amazing scenery as background. This is definitely a wonderful opportunity to see life in other cultures and the importance of family.
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