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Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
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by Doug Bentin

"Everyone rides alone."
4 stars

Yimou Zhang is best known in America as the man behind the semi-hit films “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers,” but he just as well known in his native China for smaller pictures that explore the successes and failures of human relationships. Of this latter group, his latest is “Qian li zou dan qi,” almost accurately translated as “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.”

Japanese actor Ken Takakura stars as Mr. Takata, a man who exiled himself to a small fishing village after the death of his wife ten years ago. He has become estranged from his son Ken-ichi (Kiichi Nakai) who has developed a passion for Chinese folk opera after making a television about the genre.

But now Ken-ichi is dying of liver cancer in Tokyo and Takata’s daughter Rie (Shinobu Terajima) sends for dad. He shows up only to hear his son say vehemently that he doesn’t want a visit from his father. Rie gives the old man a video of the TV show and Takata takes it upon himself, as a combined act of penance and overture of reconciliation, to go to China to film the actor Le Jiamin performing a folk opera called “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.”

He finds that Li is in prison for striking a man who taunted him about having fathered an illegitimate son Li has never seen. The actor can’t perform because he has become so emotional about the son, so Takata goes to the village where the boy, Yang Yang (Zhenbo Yang) is being raised.

This son, like Ken-ichi, is a stranger to his father and, like Takata’s own son, he doesn’t want to meet his dad. He does, however, bond with Takata, and when the filmmaker has to leave him in order to return to the prison to tell Li that his son won’t see him, Zhang gives us one of the most heartstring-tugging moments since young Joey Starrett begged Shane to come back.

There’s no denying that “Riding Alone” is emotionally manipulative, but that isn’t always a bad thing. There are moments in the film that are so quiet and so real, we realize that the biggest manipulator of all is fate. Actually, the toughest part of the movie for westerners to take is the ending, which seems to make futile everything that has gone before as Takata is seen from behind, standing on the beach watching the sun set.

Don’t expect a happily-ever-after Hollywood ending. We simply don’t know what happens to some of the characters, but our focus has always been on Takata, who has been traveling alone for a very long time. Isn’t it right that he should near his destination alone as well? And who’s to say that finding inner peace isn’t the best we can hope for?

RAFTOM is a quiet, even serene, thought piece that won’t satisfy many western viewers, but if you can find at its heart the wisdom of knowing yourself, you may discover that it touches you more deeply than you thought a movie could.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14540&reviewer=405
originally posted: 12/06/06 01:35:22
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User Comments

2/10/09 PAUL SHORTT A GORGEOUSLY PHOTOGRAPHED, HEARTWARMING TALE OF LOVE AND FORGIVENESS 4 stars
9/24/07 damalc really different for Yimou. pretty boring to begin, but very touching 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  01-Sep-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 06-Feb-2007

UK
  N/A

Australia
  01-Jun-2006


Directed by
  Yimou Zhang

Written by
  Yimou Zhang
  Jingzhi Zou

Cast
  Ken Takakura
  Kiichi Nakai
  Shinobu Terajima
  Jiang Wen



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