Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
1 Mile Above: Tibet on Two Wheels
is not merely a destination, it is an experience. Still, cycling across the country is taking
matters to the extreme. Taiwanese Zhang
Shuhao is not the man to do it. Yet, he
has very personal reasons for biking from Lijiang to Lhasa in Du Jiayi’s 1 Mile Above (trailer here), which opens
tomorrow in New York.
elder brother was the cyclist. He is an
amateur. However, he resolves to make
the trek his recently deceased brother had been training for. Originally conceived as a tribute, it becomes
a purification ritual and a struggle to survive. Although some of the local guides try to take
advantage of the fish out of water, he has the good fortune to fall in with
Chuan. The gruff mainlander is an
experienced cyclist, who has made the grueling journey twice before. He also has a keen appreciation of Tibetan
culture, especially the cuisine.
Mile is at its best when it
celebrates the Tibetan people and culture, most definitely including Tibetan
Buddhism. As a narrative, Zhang Jialu
& Cheng Hsiao-tse’s adaptation of Xie Wanglin’s memoir is fairly standard
wilderness survival fare, even when circumstances force Zhang to carry on by
himself. Yet, there are a number a
genuinely beautiful moments to be found along the way. The scenes with a young Tibetan widow (sensitively
portrayed by Li Tao) and her son are so honest and pure, they are guaranteed to
choke viewers up. Likewise, an encounter
with a silent pilgrim on the road to Lhasa is unusually moving, because it
expresses so much without words.
and cinematographer Du Jie find all the rough hewn beauty in the faces of hardscrabble
Tibetans, while also duly basking in the grandeur of the Himalayas. While the film glosses over many of the contemporary
political and cultural challenges Tibetans face, it is still rather forthright
regarding the region’s poverty. Frankly,
Mile would be a good candidate for
the Rubin Museum’s first rate film program.
Zhang, Bryan Chang is convincing enough in his physical scenes of exhaustion, dehydration,
and desperation. However, it is Li
Xiaochaun who limns out the most fully developed character, with specific (but
not excessively quirky) foibles. Yet, it
is Li Tao and several of her fellow Tibetan actors who will truly haunt audiences
in a bittersweet kind of way.
Mile Above runs far deeper than
its arresting scenery (which is spectacular, nonetheless). This film will make viewers want to visit
Tibet (unfortunately a rather tricky proposition)—and not to simply stare at
mountain peaks. Recommended quite highly
for those who appreciate spiritually in-the-moment cinema, 1 Mile Above opens tomorrow (6/7) in New York, courtesy of Asia
Labels: Taiwanese Cinema, Tibet