Perhaps three-quarters of the way into Zhang Yimou’s rigorous Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, it occurred to me how daring it is for Zhang to make a film so different from any of his recent work. His trademark themes are here: an improbable journey, family obligations kept at any cost. I think the back-to-back action pictures he made, Hero and House of Flying Daggers, burned away the dross of excessive sentimentality that defined The Road Home and Not One Less. Riding Alone functions as a comedy of errors, yet the movie cuts much deeper than that subgenre typically allows, because the things that go wrong are so tied up in the emotional pain of the characters.
Takata, an elderly Japanese man, learns that his son Ken-ichi, with whom he hasn’t spoken for a decade, lies in a hospital critically ill. Takata’s daughter-in-law attempts to reconcile the men; she hands Takata a videotape of an excursion Ken-ichi made to southern China the previous year and urges him to watch.
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