Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ken Takahura, Shinobu Terajima, Niichi Nakai, Li Jiamin, Qiu Lin, Jiang Wen, Ken Nakamoto, Li Li Bin, Chen Ziliang, He Zezhou, Yang Zhenbo
Written by: Zou Jingzhi, based on a story by Zhang Yimou, Zou Jingzhi, Wang Bin
Directed by: Zhang Yimou
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements
Language: Japanese, Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 107
Date: 10/22/2005

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Plight at the Opera

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Zhang Yimou takes a break between martial arts movies for this sentimental, yet surprisingly effective drama. When his grown, estranged son is diagnosed with cancer, Japanese fisherman Takada (Ken Takakura) attempts to emotionally reconnect with him. Since his son was a nut for Chinese mask opera, Takada travels to Yunnan Province in Southern China to film a specific performer, Li Jiamin (playing himself), singing the opera "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles." But like a classic drawing room comedy, nothing goes as planned. Li Jiamin is in jail, and Takada must jump through many hoops to attain entry. Then, Li Jiamin can't perform because he misses his own son, so Takada is off on another errand. Moreover, he doesn't speak Chinese, and must phone his interpreter (Jiang Wen) at every turn. As with his previous film House of Flying Daggers, Zhang lays on the schmaltz a bit too thickly, but balances it with some nice moments elsewhere. Remarkably, the film's other theme -- that technology has become an essential part of our emotional centers -- provides a frightening counter-balance. Video, digital photos, cell phones, cars, etc. come to the rescue every time for these lost souls. Takada and Li Jiamin's young son -- who do not speak one another's language -- actually connect through a whistle. Maybe Zhang, who a few years ago staged an opera and allowed it to be filmed as The Turandot Project (2001), is saying that live is just as good as Memorex, if the result brings us all closer together.

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