I first came across this film when I was looking through the back catalogue of the actor Ge You (from the film 'To Live' among others). Though he is only a supporting actor, I'm extremely glad I watched it.
Two things stand out about this film: At the visual level it is stunning. Merchants make long treks along the bed of the Yellow River that has remained dry since the Yellow River changed its course 100 years before. The scenery is wonderfully photographed. The merchants also sing some superb songs that reflect the nature of their life and their relationship to the river bed.
The plot of the story follows one of these merchants as a youth, a middle aged man, and finally an old man. At each of these stages he meets his nemesis, a brigand (Ge You). The story is itself touching, and the actors all play their parts well, but it is the singing and the scenery which remain most firmly in my memory. Beautifully crafted in every way.
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