- 1h 26m
On an isolated road passing through the vast barren plains of Tibet, a truck driver, who has accidentally run over a sheep, chances upon a young man, who is hitching a ride. As they drive an... Read allOn an isolated road passing through the vast barren plains of Tibet, a truck driver, who has accidentally run over a sheep, chances upon a young man, who is hitching a ride. As they drive and chat, the truck driver notices that his new friend has a silver dagger strapped to his l... Read allOn an isolated road passing through the vast barren plains of Tibet, a truck driver, who has accidentally run over a sheep, chances upon a young man, who is hitching a ride. As they drive and chat, the truck driver notices that his new friend has a silver dagger strapped to his leg. He comes to understand that his man is out to kill someone, who wronged him earlier in... Read all
The story begins with Jinpa, a truck driver dressed like a Tibetan rockstar in perpetual sunglasses (much like Wong Kar Wai himself) and covered in Johnny Depp accessories. He drives solo transporting cargo across the Kekexili Plateau listening to O Sole Mio on cassette.
He hears a violent thud from the bottom of his truck. Upon inspection, he discovers he accidentally ran over a sheep. It's eerily strange seeing that there is nothing for miles on the barren highway. Feeling remorseful for the accidental life he took, he loads the dead sheep onto his truck.
Later down the road, Jinpa picks up a stranger (Genden Phuntsok), a man decked out in traditional Tibetan garb with a big shiny knife dangling over his thigh. Initially taciturn, the stranger later reveals to Jinpa that he has located the man who murdered his father a decade ago and is now on a quest for revenge. The stranger reveals his name is also Jinpa.
They eventually reach a fork at the road and the two men go their separate ways. He heads to a monastery, makes a donation and asks the monk to pray for the sheep's soul. He (very ironically) purchases half a sheep at a local market as a present to his girlfriend for a night of love but is unable to perform. Jinpa is still troubled by the death of the sheep and now the prospect of the stranger committing murder.
He sets off to the town the stranger went to prevent the murder and settles into a local teahouse for inquiry. The flirtatious owner of the teahouse (Sonam Wangmo) gives him an account of what happened the day before with the stranger in a dreamy flashback. From there, things start to get ambiguous.
Is this all a dream? Are the two men Jungian halves of the same person? Or perhaps these are past-life memories? Or are we talking about parallel universes here?
Writer-Director Pema Tseden could have just as easily written a poem. He enriches this simple plot by telling it visually and brings out its meditative themes front and center. The part where the stranger reveals his story in the truck, the truck driver and the stranger's heads are cut in half on each side of the frame. At the center of the frame lies the dead sheep at the back of the truck, literally placing death at the center.
Cinematographer Songye Lu utilizes the natural beauty of the Tibetan seemingly-infinite landscapes and it evokes the feeling of a Western. Birds fly and life moves along at its actual pace. The interior scenes are photographed in a more stylized dreamier fashion like an amnesiac recalling a vague memory. The locations are not representing actual geographical places but more rather, a state of mind.
This film was reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man in that it was a spiritual road movie where the main character goes through a series of trials, shedding parts of himself along the way. The outward journey is the inner journey.
The lead actor who plays the driver, whose name is also Jinpa in real life, primarily acts with his body and speaking very little words, delivers an understated lead performance. With an arresting silent presence that of a Sergio Leone type hero, actor Jinpa creates a captivating interplay with the two other lead players of the cast, Genden Phuntsok and Sonam Wangmo.
At a runtime of 89 tight minutes, Jinpa is an ultra-slow paced film, but justifiably so. The script acts like a Zen koan, posing an unanswerable question that forces the viewer to reflect upon the question more than finding the actual answer. It demands a certain level of participation beyond casual viewing. Clues are littered for the viewer to find and interpret what's going on. You meditate along with the title character and self-reflect whether you yourself are the revenge murderous type.
Having had the fortune of visiting Tibet, life is indeed slow there. From the high altitude, you take a break for every few steps you make on the streets of Lhasa and it forces you into a deep thoughtful place. At least that was my experience and I recalled that feeling here. What's perhaps Jinpa's biggest artistic achievement is it presents a piece of Tibetan culture and uses the narrative to present their cultural values.
Admittedly, it was challenging fighting the urge to nod off at times. Its pacing will naturally hinder the film's mainstream appeal and that's unfortunate. For arthouse audiences that will appreciate such a meditative experience, it's a rewarding viewing. Initially, I walked out uncomprehensive of what I had just seen, but the story stayed in my mind and things became clearer and deeper the more I contemplated about its life and death themes. And I'm still thinking about it.
- Aug 23, 2020