Holding the camera on the aged face of the great Japanese actor Ken Takakura speaks volumes. Even when playing a man who is detached from his emotions, minor nuances in the close-up take on strength and magnitude. It’s no wonder Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou has wanted to work with him for many years, and whenever the camera remains on Takakura for a significant length of time, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles feels like a moving picture snapshot of a man whose emotional walls are starting to crack open. Unfortunately, the movie surrounding that face is a cliché story of paternal estrangement from a son dying of cancer. To make amends, the Japanese father goes to a remote Chinese province in order to complete his son’s documentary about a folk-opera star. The language barrier becomes a major obstacle for our stubborn, resolute hero, not to mention tons of governmental red tape when he discovers the singer has been thrown in jail. Though well photographed (some of the winding roads Takakura has to cross are shot from a dizzying God’s eye view) and filled out with a likeable supporting cast, Zhang doesn’t trust his audience enough. He takes sentimental moments where the hero has to go out on a spiritual limb and drowns the moment in ponderously meaningful, heart-tugging music. By the time he introduces a little kid for the grown-up to connect with, we can see the catharsis long before it’s captured on film. This one’s a long, slow ride down an all too familiar road.
Score:Cast: Ken Takakura, Shinobu Terajima, Kiidhi Nakai, Li Jiamin, Qui Lin, Jiang Wen, Yang Zhenbo Director: Zhang Yimou Screenwriter: Zou Jingzhi Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics Running Time: 107 min Rating: PG Year: 2006 Buy: Video