Course:ASIA355/2023/Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles: Exploring Dedication and Love Through a Chinese Cultural Film

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Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles: Exploring Dedication and Love Through a Chinese Cultural Film

Zhang Yimou's Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Group Members' Contributions

Name Role Sections
O M Spokesperson/Presenter 2, 7, 8
N L Recorder 4, 8
J W Manager/Questioner 3, 4, 5
J Y Q Reflector/Strategy Analyst 6



Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is a film directed by Zhang Yimou and Yasuo Furuhata. Premiering at the Tokyo Film Festival on 22 October 2005, it stars Ken Takakura as Gouichi Takata, a father in a strained relationship with his ill son Kenichi (Kiichi Nakai). After playing a tape of his son filming Nuo opera, Takata resolves to travel to Lijiang, China to film Li Jiamin (Li Jiamin) perform the opera Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles for his son. Throughout his travels with translator and tour guide Jiang Wen (Jiang Wen) and local guide Lingo (Qiu Lin). Takata meets Li, who has been imprisoned since Kenichi’s last visit, and Li Jianmin’s illegitimate child Yang Yang (Yang Zhenbo). Takata does not succeed in his goal, as his son passes while he is in China. However, Takata still delivers Li pictures of Li’s son, and records the opera in lieu of admitting his son’s passing to the prisoners.


Stories behind the film details the cast, setting, and history of production, adding tidbits and behind the scenes anecdotes. Histories of reception underscores the film’s past and present receptions, as well as the differences in cultural receptions. The scholarly literature review delves into the various themes present in the film, such as fulfilling inner calls, communication, spirituality, cultural significance, and intergenerational/transregional alienation. The comparative analysis focuses on Zhang Yimou's filmmaking techniques and visual aesthetics in comparison to the film The Pursuit of Happyness. The alternative interpretation asserts a reading of a film as a piece on masculinity and the performance of gender. Finally, the conclusion reviews previous critiques before inserting a personal review and recommended audience.

Stories Behind the Film

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles was written by Zou Jingzhi. The film was produced by Xiu Jian, Zhang Weiping, and Bill Kong. The cinematography is by Zhao Xiaoding and Daisaku Kimura, and it was edited by Cheng Long and Akimasa Kawashima. The background music is by Guo Wenjing. The film was distributed by Sony Picture Classics.[1] The film budget was 60 million yuan.[2]

These regions were predominantly carved from million of years of wind and rain.
The Yuanmou Earth mountainous regions


The film was filmed in Japan and China. In China, the film was shot at the Yuanmou Earth Forest in Chuxiong Prefecture. The mountain ranges and beautiful scenery formed lands that are carved similarly to the Grand Canyon.[3] The scenery is carved from millions of years of rain and winds. Chinese culture describes these landforms as mysterious or almost magical.[3] Zhang Yimou uses this location to frame the bond between Takata and Yang Yang. This connection is magical, similar to the setting.

Another location the film is shot is in Lijiang, Yunnan. The banquet was shot in Lijiang by the Qinglong bridge, Shuhe. The town that was filmed is located along the Yangtze River. The architecture is filled with old-fashioned atmosphere. The temperature is around 20 degrees Celsius annually, an incredibly beautiful and resort- like place to inhabit.[3] The people there are rural and very friendly, which would explain why Takata was welcomed despite being a foreigner.[4] Zhang Yimou chose this location because he needed a place with friendly people to depict the warming hearts of the Chinese people.

The reason why Lijiang was chosen is because of the vibrant culture. Lijiang has an Ancient Tea Horse Road, Dongba Culture, and Naxi Ancient Music.[1] These attributes are what led Kenichi to come to this distant area in Yunnan. The rural yet friendly people, beautiful scenery and vibrant culture fit into a place where Nuo opera is appreciated.[5]

Zhang Yimou describes how Takakura accompanied all of the cast even when his work was done.

Relationships Within the Film

Ken Takakura was Zhang Yimou’s idol and Takakura saw Yimou as a son.[6] When Yimou first approached Takakura with the script, Takakura rejected Yimou.[7] Takakura felt the film had no depth to capture his heart. Zhang Yimou had the script rewritten. The new script fell had Takakura in and he agreed to take part. During the filming of the movie, there was no sitting allowed. When Takakura finished filming, he refused to sit down as he wanted to pay respect to the film crew’s hard work. Zhang Yimou immediately directed all chairs of the film crew to be taken away as to be shown equal respect to Takakura.[7] Takakura was a very loving man who refused to go rest after filming his part. When Zhang Yimou asked him to leave, Takakura sat at the grass behind and watched from a distance. His dedication, love and support accurately reflect the type of person Takata is in the film.[5]

Love and Dedication

The prison scenes in the movie was shot with real prisoners to portray the realities of life.[7] Zhang Yimou was able to also give prisoners a perspective of love as the film is about forgiveness. Takakura also left them with a few words after shooting, telling them to make better choices in the future and go on the right path. Takakura shocked the filmmakers when he thanked the inmates who took part in the film who gave him a new perspective to work with.[7]

The themes of love and dedication go far beyond Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. The film also created a bond between Zhang Yimou and Ken Takakura.[6] Takakura secretly had a swordmaster craft a sword in Japan for over a year. When Zhang Yimou was the 2008 Beijing Olympics' film director, Takakura personally flew to Beijing to pay respect to Zhang Yimou with the sword. Takakura did this was because he believed Zhang Yimou gave him an opportunity to understand Chinese film culture. He said this film was the first film that he cried on tape as the love behind the film resonated throughout him.[5]

Histories of the Film’s Reception

Understanding a film's reception is critical since it reveals how viewers and critics receive and understand the picture. The film's reception helps determine its effect, success, and cultural relevance, allowing for a more in-depth assessment of its topics and creative merits. Analyzing multiple reviewers' and audiences' opinions helps to give a complete picture of the film's reception and place in cinematic history.

To study the reception of Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, we will look at reviews, articles, and critical assessments from a variety of venues. These sources provide important information about the film's historical backdrop, public attitudes, and critical reaction. By evaluating a range of views, we may gain a comprehensive understanding of how the picture was received by both critics and audiences.

Takata and Lingo hold a China red banners representing Chinese characters of thankfulness for help.

According to reviews and assessments, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles received positive reception for its emotional storytelling, exploration of cross-cultural connections, and outstanding performances.[8] The film is described as a deeply emotional work that explores themes of connection and transformation. It delves into the divisions and connections between individuals and civilizations, leaving viewers changed and connected in new ways.[8] It is considered a testament to the human spirit and the power of reconciliation.[8] Critics praised director Yimou Zhang's storytelling finesse and the remarkable performances, particularly by Ken Takakura.[9][10][11] The film presented an idealized China with plucky peasants and wholesome landscapes, creating a visually stunning experience.[12] The exploration of father-son relationships, forgiveness, love, and the pursuit of responsibilities resonated with audiences.[9][10] However, some reviewers noted that the film fell short of delivering the same level of emotional resonance seen in Zhang's earlier works.[10] Despite this critique, the film still offered a reflective viewing experience and showcased Zhang's directorial finesse.[10]

Historical Context and Release

Foreigners can visit China due to globalization even in the most remote areas. Though globalization has brought western influences to China, the tradition of treating foreigners well is still represented.

The film is set in the early 2000s, mostly in rural China and Japan. It depicts the landscapes, customs, and cultural subtleties of various countries at the time.[9] The movie depicts a backdrop for the rural lifestyle and traditional values of the Chinese people.

While Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is fiction, it reflects the sociopolitical and historical environment of the time, coinciding with China's aspirations for modernization and increased globalization.[9] The film premiered at a period when China and other countries were experiencing more globalization and cultural exchange. It was designed to coincide with China's goals of modernizing its economy and opening out to the rest of the world. The protagonist's trip to Japan symbolizes China's growing interconnectedness and interchange with its neighbors. Furthermore, the film emphasizes the age divide and strained relationships among families, which may be considered as a mirror of China's shifting social fabric at the time. Rapid urbanization, migration, and changed attitudes exacerbated tensions between older and younger generations, frequently leading in fractured family relations. The film tackles the complexity of family connections and the desire for reconciliation via the story of the protagonist's attempt to reconcile with his son.

The film was released in 2005, during an era of transition in Chinese filmmaking gaining worldwide prominence. Zhang Yimou, had already established himself as a major figure in Chinese cinema with films such as Raise the Red Lantern and Hero.[9] His work frequently probed cultural topics and gained both domestic and international critical praise. Riding Alone added to Zhang Yimou's reputation as a filmmaker capable of combining aesthetically breathtaking photography with sad storytelling. The film was chosen as China's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 79th Academy Awards.[9][13] Despite not receiving a nomination, the film's international acclaim increased Zhang Yimou's stature as a filmmaker.[9]

Evolution of the Film's Reception Over Time

The film received a lot of attention from cinema fans and reviewers when it premiered. It received international acclaim and was shown at renowned film festivals, which contributed to its initial favorable reaction. However, due to traditional distribution routes and the lack of significant social media platforms, the film's impact was considerably limited compared to today.

Due to the growth of social media and increasing accessibility of films via streaming services, the reception of the film may alter in the current time period. The interaction between text, ideology, writers, and readers has been altered by social media platforms. Online conversations, reviews, and suggestions on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and movie forums allow for the expression of a greater spectrum of voices and viewpoints. The film may have developed a devoted audience or reawakened interest through internet channels. Furthermore, the film's availability on streaming sites would have allowed a bigger audience to find and appreciate it.

Cultural Differences in the Film's Reception

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles may be received differently by different people. The ideas of love and reconciliation can be seen from the Chinese and Japanese characters, which appeals to more than one culture/ethnicity. The film is in Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, but the subtitles are from a variety of languages. The linguistic variances may result in different translations for the audience’s immersion of understanding. The film also illustrates the Sino-Japanese tensions that develop from differing patriotic emotions and historical interpretations from a Japanese man visiting China. 

Scholarly Literature Review

The Elderly Seeking Hope and Redemption

The story behind this film is to fulfill inner calls, doing morally conscious actions and testing oneself against the odds within certain scenarios. According to Jane Alexander Steward in Seeking the Elder Hero in Zhang Yimou’s film, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, Takata is forcing himself to go on a journey to fulfill his inner call.[14] He has long lost contact with his son; however, as a father he aspires to reconnect his life as his son is reaching the end time of his fate. He chooses to persevere across his trek without giving up or going home. For a man of his age, going home and enjoying retirement is something that should be done. The search for value and identity in one’s life is crucial for one’s existence in the world.

Another component to realize is communication. Takata first uses a landline but later uses a cell phone. Though at times the reception is poor in the mountainous villages, Takata use of a cell phone is the only way to convey emotions. The estrangement of Takata is demonstrated as he cannot directly communicate with his son. Communication is only done through Rie which brings forth a notion of the importance of feminism. Rie is a female and the only individual who understands why Takata is detached from his son. She is the bridge that serves as a connection to this detachment. She is the one who informs Takata which makes him execute his trip. The sense of communication is backed by Takata’s urgency to fulfill the inner desire of doing a morally conscious spiritual reconnect with his son.[14]

When Takata meets with Li Jianmin, the latter is overcome with emotions about seeing his lost son. There is a similarity as the both are yearning for the love and communication with their sons. The concept of love and spiritual connection is a theme in the two characters.[14] The both have failed to be good fathers and have also lost contact with their sons. The bond between Yang Yang and Takata shows the healing of inner conflict by Takata working towards healing the outer conflict with his son. Though Takata realizes that his son has passed away before he has finished filming, he connects with his son by looking into the mountains. The spiritual connection is intense as it is the only direct communication that Takata has had with his son. The sense of respecting and appreciating the dead concurrently appeases Takata by reuniting Takata and his son emotionally and spiritually. Takata sees his responsibility to bridge the connection between Yang Yang and Li Jianmin. This is to give Li Jianmin the opportunity to emotionally and spiritually reconnect with his son. The notion of spirituality, and living beyond physical reality is something highlighted.[14]

Myth and Motif

The film also brings upon the perspective of intergenerational and transregional alienation through the story of Lord Guan during the three kingdoms period. According to Luying Chen in Media, Redemption, and Myth Superscription in Zhang Yimou’s Riding Alnoe for Thousands of Miles, The film uses symbolism of the three kingdoms of the lord Guan myth.[15] The Japanese new oriental position of losing western orientalism as well as the democratic subject for Chinese political autonomy. An essential component of the story of Lord Guan is “jiang yiqi,” a Chinese term used to describe loyalty.[15] The three kingdoms story of Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles is about a battle between Cao Cao and Liu Bei. Lord Guan is on the same team as Liu Bei. However, when Cao Cao captures Lord Guan the former tries to bribe the latter to serve the former. Lord Guan rejects Cao Cao’s offers and escapes. Lord Guan rides for a thousand miles to find his teammate Liu Bei. The journey was not easy, as Lord Guan crossed five mountains and killed six enemies.[15] This sort of loyalty is possessed by Takata for his son as he travels to China to help film Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. The fact that Kenichi does not heal from his father’s trip to China also shows that the opera itself is not important. As stated, Kenichi always hid behind a mask and barely had any Chinese friends. He told Li Jianming that he was going to come back out of politeness. Kenichi had no connection with China. There was a barrier between Kenichi and China. Therefore, the efforts of Takata going to China is similar to Lord Guan’s dedication. Though there is no direct motive, it is a demonstration of loyalty, love and dedication.

Takata in the hospital corridor.

The romantic motif of Takata’s story also ties with segregation. The hospital corridor wall describes the segregation between Takata and his son. The wall represents the trauma, illness and vulnerability of Kenichi. The difference between the two generations as well as the difference in educational backgrounds. Takata is a fisherman whereas Kenichi is a scholar at Tokyo University. The different beliefs still have the two become inseparable due to bloodline. The fact that Kenichi forgives his father from the trip to China show that his masked performance with laugher and happiness is only hidden with pain and tears.[15] Kenichi forgives his father and reconnects spiritually. Though the father and son never meet, they reconnect through Takata’s actions. Even when Kenichi passes away, the solitary moment of gazing and continuance of Takata’s journey is to fulfill oneself. Takata is seeking spiritual redemption. Cultures are dynamic across the world yet certain static traits remain.[15]

Clashes from Culture

Wendy Larson explores cultural clashing and bonding in Chinese Culture on the Global Stage: Zhang Yimou and Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. Kenichi was actually indifferent to the local opera. However, Kenichi actually admires Li Jianmin, not the culture or the opera. There was segregation between Japanese and Chinese culture yet Takata’s dedication to his son demonstrates a shared culture of love and dedication for future generations between Japanese and Chinese. Lingo wanted to help Takata free of charge yet was not close to Kenichi. There is so much difference in perspective yet the same cultural value of loyalty and willingness to help.[16] Takata tries his best to even use Chinese signs to depict his dedication and methods to Chinese officials to visit the prison. Though the language is different, the common notion of thankfulness is shown. When two cultures are so different yet so similar, it is important to realize that different cultures survive through common morality. Zhang Yimou further enhances this notion by hiring Li Jianmin’s actor as a local opera actor. The fact that Takata shows this is to idolize Li Jianmin is to show that there is a lack of cultural integration between local Chinese and Japanese culture but a similar sense of dedication and loyalty to one another.[16]

Sino-Japanese Relations

Ethnicity is also a gap between the people in the film. Kwai-Cheung Lo in When China Encounters Asia Again: Rethinking Ethnic Excess in Some Recent Films from the PRC explains that there is not only a cultural, legal and political barrier, it is also important to reflect that Beijing wanted to connect with the outside world at the time the film was being produced.[17] Takata and Li Jianmin created a meaningful bond despite meeting only twice. Takata brought together Yang Yang to Li Jianmin despite Li Jianmin doing nothing for Takata. The taking off the mask shows how Li Jianmin is no longer hiding his emotion but being open to Takata. This is an allegory to Chinese Japanese relations: despite the Sino-Japanese war, there is a true connection between the two cultures that shows a mutual understanding.[17] Takata was met with friendliness though he was Japanese. The two are each bringing closure to each other about their history with their sons. This taking off of a mask and the mutual understanding of one another and their respective nations. China is showing forgiveness as well as embracement of other asian cultures despite the history. At the same time, China is showing its criticism to how the Japanese treated the Chinese during the war when the Chinese welcomed outsiders with a warm heart.[17]

Takata and Yang Yang’s bond also introduces the notion of “accepting the enemy as the father.” The fact that Yang Yang accepts Takata’s bond and refuses to see his father is also to show that there are indirect tensions between the two countries. Yet Takata does not push Yang Yang to meet his father but personally is able to create a bond. This is similar to Chinese traitors bonding with the Japanese during the war.[17] The fact that there is such a friendly direct portrayal between the Takata and Yangyang is also to show that there is indirect conflict and indirect competition between China and Japan. Zhang Yimou could not criticize the Japanese directly but showed modern China as a developed and civilized nation that loved visitors.

Comparative Analysis

When viewing Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles as a mediation on a father-son relationship, The Pursuit of Happyness comes to mind as a parallel. Released in 2006, the two films share a common bond on familial dynamics, but also use similar film techniques to draw emotions from the audience.


Takata looking at the scenery of Lijang
Chris walking to the securities company.

Similarity 1: A Lot of Moving Shots

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles has a lot of long horizontal panning or following moving shots, and many of these shots move from right to left, which is the same direction as the ancient Chinese writing and reading. In the scene where Takata stops gazing at the landscape and returns to the car to return to Lijiang, the camera follows him back to the car from right to left. The Pursuit of Happyness also has a large number of moving follow-up shots, the camera follows Chris with his resume as he goes to submit it to the securities company, in order to show the horizontal and vertical movement of the characters - while Chris moves to the right, others in the scene move to the inside of the screen, showing a depth of movement.

Similarity 2. Using the Film Score to Render the Characters' Emotions

The beginning and the end of Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles are both scored by Chinese opera of the same name. The reason for this choice is that Lord Guan is an ideal of Chinese character, and the name of the opera implies the loneliness of Lord Guan’s life. Therefore the opera is a very appropriate reflection of the themes of the film. The score of the film is mostly played by drums, guzheng, and is also mixed with fork and fiddle sounds. The melancholic tunes emphasize the loneliness of the characters in the play.

The Pursuit of Happiness differs from other American blockbusters in that it relies on an impassioned soundtrack to give people an aural impact. It is a soundtrack that sets up the plot and affects the audience throughout the story. The music throughout the movie is played on piano, like a serenade, soft and soothing. The melody is beautiful, the sound is gentle, and at the beginning of the story, has attracted a large audience. When Chris is happily running for his livelihood and bravely pursuing happiness, the film uses cheerful and jumping music; when Chris is running on the road, the film uses rapid and tense music; when Chris is most destitute, he and his son are homeless, sleeping in public toilets and squeezing in shelters, the film uses sad and low music.


Takata staring into the sea after returning to Japan.

Difference 1: Shot Distance

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles uses a lot of distant shots from the background to set off the emotions of the Takata. For example, at the end of the film, the seashore of the Japanese North Sea shows Takata standing alone under the dark cloudy sky. This shot is similar to the film's first shot and shows Takata's heart feeling lonely and isolated. In the end, Takata is full of remorse and guilt. There is also a shot of Takata getting out of his car to answer the phone on his way back to prison, when he receives the news of his son Kenichi's death. Under the blue sky, Takata is facing the same snowy mountain as Ken in the past. The snowy mountain stands strong and lonely above the earth all year round, the snowy mountain symbolizes the strong and tall Kenichi and Takata, Takata looks at the snowy mountain and sees his son and himself. The snowy mountain that Takata faces even seems to be the magnified grave of Kenichi.

A close-up shot of Linda looking distraught.

The Pursuit of Happyness, on the other hand, uses a lot of close-ups to show the inner drama of the main character. For example, when Chris calls Linda in prison, the close-ups show Linda's choked sobs. It is clear that her departure is definitely not vanity and perfidy so utilitarian, she has been suffering a lot of women may not be able to bear things. The choking in front of the phone, more of a desperate life. Another example is the father hiding in the subway public toilet, the son has been asleep in the tiredness, the door outside the people keep tapping on the locked door. The helpless father looked timid and at a loss, thinking that he had fallen into such a situation, covered his son's ears, afraid that the knocking outside the door would wake the child, but also subconsciously to protect his son from the outside world, while he could no longer stop the tears of grief.

Chris looks hopefully into the distance with his son.

Difference 2: Ending Mood

At the end of Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, Takata stands alone under a dark cloudy sky at the end of the film, looking ahead to the farthest reaches of the North Sea of Japan. This final shot is similar to the first shot of the film. It shows that Takata's heart is lonely and isolated at the end, full of remorse, guilt and sadness.

In the end credits of The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris is walking with his son, laughing and talking along the way after his success. There is a diagonal composition used, while a panning shot is chosen to shoot a close up shot of the main character. The long shot at the end of The Pursuit of Happyness is different from Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. The latter film’s shot at the end of the film is leisurely, comfortable, warm and harmonious. The father and son's encouragement by the company in The Pursuit of Happyness shows steps toward success. The son also witnesses his father's success, which is warm and touching.

Alternative Interpretation

Previous analyses of Riding Alone have studied themes of communication, alienation, and ethnicity, but one theme that remains out of focus through our literature review is that of masculinity and the performance of gender. Modern psychologist Judith Butler coined the term gender performativity in 1990 in her book Gender Trouble. The idea behind the term is that gender is a learned cultural concept rather than natural order, essentially an act put on to display gender. Considering the use of mask opera in the film, a performance where actors literally hide their face to display that of the persona they are taking on, and Takata’s constant frustration with his own inability to externalize his emotions, there is an interesting connection to be made between gender performativity and the film’s perceptions on masculinity.

The first note on masculinity the film gives is actually extra-textual. As Xiao notes in her 2008 paper, Ken Takakura, the actor who plays Takata in the film, would be associated with masculine ‘cool’ roles by Chinese audiences from his previous works.[18] This primes the audience to associate the character of Takata with that of a masculine figure. Yet, over the course of the film, the stoic masculinity displayed by Takata is portrayed as a failing rather than an ideal, with Takata longing for more emotional vulnerability. Two scenes in particular demonstrate Takata’s perceptions of his own masculinity well; The first jail scene with Li, and Takata’s goodbye to Yang Yang. Through studying these scenes from a gender performativity perspective we can gain insight into the greater themes of masculinity the film displays.

Scene 1 (begins at 36:43)

Li breaks down as he misses his son.

After finally getting approval to film Li Jiamin perform the mask opera Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles in prison, Takata and Lingo are taken to the prison’s recreation room and prisoner performers are ushered in. The prison officer attempts to start the performance twice, but Li stands silent and motionless. As Lingo moves to the stage and tries to convince Li to sing, there is a close-up shot of Takata’s emotionless stare, a facial expression he holds for much of his time in the film. Scholars like Xiao draw comparisons between Takata and Lord Guan (the character Li is portraying) through their similar journeys, but here we see a more direct comparison.[18] Just as an audience seeks to penetrate the stoic gaze of Takata to understand the emotions underneath, we now see Li, behind the facade of Lord Guan, project the same barrier towards his audience. This mirror ends, however, as Lingo removes the mask that represents Takata’s stoic masculinity, and underneath Li is found sobbing. Whereas Li was mainly shot with low-angles or above other subjects in the scene when under the mask, the camera tilts into a high-angle as he cries out that he misses his son. Li’s eyes well up and snot drips from his nose, which moves past a rejection of masculinity into transgression. This may lead the viewer to believe that Li should be seen as pathetic, but voice-over from Takata actually expresses envy. He considers Li’s display courageous, noting his belief that a similar ability to display emotions regardless of social judgment would have saved his relationship with his son. The noting of social pressures against Li’s behavior ties back to the performance of gender. Takata clearly feels a social obligation to mask his emotions and perform stoic behavior, as that is what he believes masculinity calls for.

Scene 2 (Begins at 1:17:47)

Takata kneels in front of Yang Yang
A smile creeps onto Takata's face as he hugs Yang Yang.

The next scene of major import is one where Takata allows himself to drop his performance of masculinity, even for a moment. As Takata, Lingo, and Jasmine are about to leave the Stone Village, Takata looks out to Yang Yang (the son of Li) and goes to say goodbye. Yang Yang is a character that readily displays emotion on his face, possibly because as a child he is unaware of the social conventions of his gender. After Takata reaches Yang Yang, he kneels down in front of him. This places Takata below Yang Yang in the shot with his head bent down, as if to pay patronage to a superior. As they embrace, Takata allows a smile to creep over his face, though it soon fades back to his regular expression. The two exit their embrace, and Takata draws a toothy smile from Yang Yang through a reference to an earlier joke between them. Surprisingly we see Takata mimic this smile as he turns to head back to the car waiting to take them home. This scene can be seen as Takata having learned some level of emotional vulnerability from Yang Yang, through his height in the framing of their goodbye and his mimicry.


Riding alone for Thousands of Miles received mixed reviews upon release. While some critics praised the emotional storytelling, cross-cultural connections, and performances, others felt that the film fell short in developing the father-son relationship. Overall, the film gained international acclaim and showcased Zhang Yimou's directorial finesse. The film's premiere in 2005 marked a significant period of transition in Chinese filmmaking, further solidifying Zhang Yimou's reputation as a prominent director. There have been potential changes in the film's reception over time, considering the impact of social media and streaming services, which can shape audience perception and expand its reach. The film may also be received differently by various ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups. While Chinese and Japanese viewers may have a deeper understanding of the cultural nuances depicted, the universal themes of love and reconciliation are expected to resonate with audiences of all backgrounds.

Regardless of age, Riding Alone has a timeless story of a tumultuous relationship between a father and his son. Ken Takakura displays a full range of acting abilities through an ironically but intentionally muted performance. The fact that the film is already split between two languages and cultures means that less cultural context is expected from the viewer. Viewers that may be intimidated by foreign films need not worry about missing important details. At the same time, those familiar with Japanese and Chinese culture will find references and traditions close to them, such as the story of Lord Guo or the social alienation of Tokyo. Ultimately if one is looking for an emotional drama with masterful acting from the lead, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles will deliver a gut punch of devastating but uplifting feelings.


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  11. Wilkinson, Amber (March 9th, 2007). "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles 2005 Film Review". Eyeforfilm. Retrieved June 9th, 2023. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  12. Heiter, Celeste (July 30th, 2008). "Film Review: Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles". ThingsAsian. Retrieved June 9th, 2023. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  13. "79th Academy Awards (2006): Precursor Tallies". Cinema Sight. Retrieved June 9th, 2023. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Stewart, Jane Alexander (July 31, 2015). "Seeking the Elder Hero in Zhang Yimou's Film, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles". Taylor & Francis Online: 31–43 – via Taylor & Francis Online.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Chen, Luying (November 02, 2017). "Media, Redemption, and Myth Superscription in Zhang Yimou's Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles". Brill – via Brill. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. 16.0 16.1 Larson, Wendy (November 15th, 2012). "Chinese Cultures on the global Stage: Zhang Yimou and Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles". Asia Network Exchange. 20: 3–11 – via Asia Network Exchange. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Lo, Kwai-Cheung (Fall, 2010). "When China Encounters Asia Again: Rethinking Ethnic Excess in Some Recent Films from the PRC". JSTOR. 10: 63–88 – via JSTOR. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  18. 18.0 18.1 Xiao, Faye Hui (2008). "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles: Redeeming the Father by Way of Japan?" (PDF). British Film Institute.