Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Qian li zou dan qi) (2005)
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Starring Ken Takakura (Yasha - 1985), Shinobu Terajima (Vibrator - 2003)
Welcome to a long advert from the Chinese Tourist Board.
A few reviews have noted this as a return to Zhang Yimou's earlier films, don't believe it, sure there's a little bit of this and that, bureaucratic problems - The Story of Qiu Ju, a runaway child - Not One Less but that's as far as it goes. This certainly takes a different turn from all his other films, it is his first full on tear-jerker, and judging by some of the females in the audience, in that sense it works.
Since Hero I've had the feeling that Zhang is working hand in glove with the Chinese government to target different groups to show that China is changing, opening up to a wider world.
Hero is one primarily for the Chinese populace, an admission of the past that has previously been pushed away, neglected and demonised. Presented in a highly theatrical manner it shows the brave commoners trying to destroy the soon to be first Emporer of China.
Why do they fail? Because the chosen assassin realises that although the slaughter and destruction of all the smaller provinces is a despicable act, it will lead to a unified strong country which will of course lead to the China we recognise today. Hence what happened in the past was wrong but what it lead to was right.
Very different in tone from Chen Kaige's The Emperor and the Assassin where Qin was painted as almost lunatic.
House of Flying Daggers, made primarily for a western audience, took a leaf from the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A take on the tragic romance but with far more of a classic western feel. No clear cut good or bad guys, sumptuous set pieces in a tale of impossible love that could have come straight from a Shakespeare play.
One strong feature is missing in HoFD from all previous films directed by Zhang Yimou, one that sends a clear political statement, the colour Red. Oh yes you'll see red blood and the odd little uniform detail, but for a colour that has been so predominant in all his other films, its absence is stark. Politically of course it's saying to the world that China has moved away from its hard line communist stance.
Having not seen Curse of the Golden Flower yet, I can't make any comment on it.
So we come to Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. A double meaning to the title, the name of a traditional Chinese mask opera, the type banished under the hard line communist regime and the central character Gou-ichi Tanakas journey to film this opera for his dying son.
In typical quest fashion, a number of trials face Tanaka San before he can reach his goal, though each problem is easily solved through the friendly Chinese bureaucrats and village chiefs, a far cry from the turgid time faced by Qiu Ju or Minzhi Wei (Not One Less). Tanaka San is aided in his travails by a tourist guide/ translator called Lingo, terrible at translating Japanese but far more capable with English, a point to note for anyone wishing to travel into the far reaches of this amazing country and culture.
Every town and village is very photogenic, either pretty or quaint, very different from the town idepicted in Zhang Ke Jias Xiao Wu, this along with the varied fabulous scenery and the constantly friendly crowds of happy peasents and officials carries a clear message. A tourist board Welcome to China and that, rather than the journey of a father to try and connect with his estranged dying son was the thought that the film left with me.
Zhang Yimou will never recapture the days of Raise the Red Lantern or even Happy Times, so I guess all we can look forward to are more over the top martial arts epics.
Although I cant give the film a big thumbs up, I thought the performances were fine and the film was far better than Chen Kaiges Together With You.