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Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005)

Qian li zou dan qi (original title)
PG | | Drama | 22 December 2005 (China)
A Japanese father travels to China's Yunnan province in the place of his ailing son to film a famous folk-opera star.



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Cast overview:
Gou-ichi Takata
Shinobu Terajima ...
Rie Takata
Ken-ichi Takata (voice)
Ken Nakamoto ...
Jiamin Li ...
Li Jiamin
Jiang Wen ...
Lin Qiu ...
Li Bin Li ...
Director Li (as Bin Li)
Ziliang Chen ...
Warden Chen
Zezhou He ...
Village Chief
Zhenbo Yang ...
Yang Yang


In a village of fishermen in Japan, Takata misses his son Kenichi, to whom he has been estranged for many years. When his daughter-in-law Rie tells him that Kenichi is sick in the hospital, she suggests Takata to come to Tokyo to visit his son in the hospital where he would have the chance to retie the relationship. However, Kenichi refuses to receive his father in his room, and Rie gives a videotape to Takata to know about the work of his son. Once at home, Takata sees a documentary in the remote village Lijiang, in the province of Younnan, about the passion of Kenichi, the Chinese opera, where the lead singer Li Jiamin promises to sing an important folk opera on the next year. When Rie calls Takata to tell that her husband has a terminal liver cancer, Takata decides to travel to Lijiang to shoot Li Jiamin singing the opera to give to Kenichi. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for mild thematic elements | See all certifications »

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Official Sites:


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Release Date:

22 December 2005 (China)  »

Also Known As:

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$7,500,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$18,314 (Hong Kong) (7 April 2006)


$251,585 (USA) (12 January 2007)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film was denied the Official Selection berth in Cannes. See more »


In the village scene Mr. Takata has to move to the highest location to make a phone call. In the following scene however he can receive phone calls while at a banquet in the lower part of the village. See more »

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User Reviews

a brand new oldie but goody?
3 September 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

As a long-time Zhang Yimou fan, I was pleased to see his most recent work depart from the Hero/ House of Flying Daggers genre and return to what I see as "classic" Zhang Yimou-- deceivingly simple films about personal struggle and transformation which are marked by their tenacious sense of humanism, stunning cinematography, and subtle political and social undertones.

Qian Li Zhou Dan Qi is a story about a father's (Ken Takakura's) journey to mend his relationship with his estranged son (voiced by Kiichi Nakai). It is a journey that transpires on two levels: Takada's physical voyage from a minimalist Japanese fishing village to a vibrant region of Yunnan Province China spurs an emotional progression that thaws his benumbed emotions for his son. Kiichi Nakai's character is never seen on screen and remains an abstraction; the son-figure is instead incarnated by a young boy of a remote village, fathered illegitimately by the opera singer whom Takada seeks to film. By learning to embrace the young boy, his hidden paternal love is manifested, and Takada, ever the stoic Hemingway man, is vicariously able to come to terms with his relationship with his own son.

The most gripping part of this film is Ken Takakura's performance. The range and depth of the actor's emotions was just what Zhang Yimou endeavored to capture in this film, and indeed, Takakura's dignity and gravitas permeates every minute of it. The camera delineates his face with great diligence and grace in the style of Zhang Yimou's The Road Home (1999) and earlier Gong Li films. Paired with visual imagery of Japan's coast and Yunnan's mountains and terrain, the picture is, as usual, a credit to Zhang Yimou's distinctive talent as director and ex-cinematographer.

Much has been said about the politics of Zhang Yimou's films. Since Qian Li Zhou Dan Qi deals with the touchy issues of state censorship and the Chinese prison system and presents them in an ultimately favorable light, it may appear that this film serves as propaganda for the Chinese government, which was an objection raised about Not One Less (1999). But even as a viewer who prefers to focus on Zhang Yimou's artistry and artistic expression rather than his "hidden political agenda," it would be rash to ignore the subtly subversive, wry irony interspersed in this film. No candy coating is painted upon the stiff policies of the state, which forbid foreigners from observing the internal workings of the prison system. The image of prisoners marching and chanting a din of self-improvement, reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution era, is equally stark. But beyond the state is the individual, and in this film as in many of Zhang Yimou's others, it is the triumph of the individual outside of his context that rings true.

What I disliked about this film, however, is that it seems Zhang Yimou has a tried-and-true formula which works, and works well, but which makes Qian Li Zhou Dan Qi feel slightly recycled (this probably wouldn't present a problem to those unfamiliar with his other films). The theme of a persistent individual's journey past bureaucracy and dispassion was explored in The Story of Qiu Ju (1992) and Zhang Yimou's use of local non-actors was a repeat from Not One Less. Moreover, this film does not escape the slowly-simmering tragic element that, though beautiful, is characteristically Zhang Yimou. I tended to enjoy the more circuitous route to tragedy in Happy Times (2000). But bottom line: after the martial arts movies secured his international fame, Zhang Yimou has created a film reminiscent of his earlier work, truly representative of his talent & vision, and which will probably receive more widespread attention— deservedly so.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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