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Zhang Yimou may be the Chinese director with the greatest gap between proven ability and practicing performance (“unrealised potential”, I think they call it), but “Riding Alone…” shows that when he breaks out of his supposed mainstream history money-spinning 5-year-plan production rubbish, he comes down to being a great narrator (sorry, but but my way of remembering Chinese directors’ names and their films goes like “there’s the one who is doing the good films, and one who’s doing the multi-coloured films” – and Zhang is in charge of the colour department). He developes his story around Tanaka-San, who is travelling from strange Japan to even stranger China in order to do one (last?) favour to his dying son. He gets into the expected trouble and has a hard time completing this mission, but in the process he gets many things back that he did not expect to get: the realisation that he still is a warm-hearted human being at times, the experience of Chinese local-community decision-making bodies, the love of a new son (of sorts), and a video capture of a Yunnan mask opera “aria”. I am not sure whether the film manages the balance of being deeply moving and hilariously funny also for somebody who has never experienced the sometimes awkward logic of the Chinese adminisitration. Maybe it’s even more funny if you don’t know it could all happen exactly this way: the approval to your request is only half as valuable if you are not allowed to introduce it with half an hour of speech about all the calamities involved in the decision-making…

Ken Takakura apparently is a big star at home in Japan – I have only seen him in Black Rain before, I think (in which I have seen all Japanese actors I remember, maybe with the exception of those who played in “Ai no corrida” and “Seven Samurai”, but those groups may overlap), and he has exactly the sadness and quietude about himself that is necessary to stress his strangeness to most of the things he’s doing and to most of the environments he is exposing himself to.

Lovelt story with a warm-hearted core and the side effect of Yunnan now being definitely on my holiday agenda, beautiful scenery!

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