Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles Zhang Yimou

I had hoped that this would be Zhang Yimou’s return to form after the big, dumb, action hoo-ha of Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Imagine my surprise to find something even less consequential than those movies, perhaps even the low point of the director’s career.

Japanese icon Ken Takakura plays an aging man who’s estranged from his son. As junior is dying from liver cancer, it’s rather urgent that papa make amends. When apprised of his son’s work with a Chinese opera singer, Takakura heads to China to complete it, only to find that the singer’s in jail because of a remark about his bastard son who’s living in a remote region and needs to be brought to daddy. The narrative is a torturous thing full of red herrings and wrong moves, but as Takakura’s not much of a character and everyone else is a mere hanger-on it’s more tedious than fascinating. In fact, it’s hard to fathom the star’s icon status in Japan through his impassive performance here, though Brando or Olivier would be hard-pressed to enliven the jerry-built script, which makes no sense and doesn’t bring the Chinese opera to life.

Still, one should at least expect some visual fireworks from the director of Raise the Red Lantern, making the dull grey soup on offer a shock to the system. It looks as though everyone involved is just phoning it in, marking, along with Chen Kaige’s ridiculous The Promise, the year the Chinese Fifth Generation finally scraped bottom.

If you’re a specialist, this might be of interest to you, but anyone looking for art or even a good time will be wasting their life for dozens of minutes. (Mongrel Media)