Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Rated PG 2006

Front-loaded with family discord, terminal cancer, prodigal jailbait, a cute kiddie, and other accessories of the ready-to-wear soap opera, Zhang Yimou's new movie about father-son reconciliation is as sincere and soggy with nostalgia as some of his other homages to the virtues of peasant life in backwater China. Slow and pretty and duller than you'd hope for from an art house sophisticate like Zhang, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles tracks a strong, silent old Japanese man on a road trip through rural China, where obediently colorful characters, meaningful parallels, and an ancient Chinese opera pave the way to self-discovery and rebirth. The movie's early flirtation with a promising idea -- "backward" China's tense history with high-tech Japan -- soon falls away to reveal a fatally reverential vehicle for veteran Japanese actor Ken Takakura and the greater glory of the post-Mao proletariat. Beautifully photographed by Zhao Xiaoding, Riding Alone dutifully offers up expected scenic pleasures -- the majestic sweep of a mountain range, the brightly colored abundance of a village feast. But though Zhang was after "the look of a still-life painting," he has merely sent us a fancy little postcard.

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