RIDING ALONE FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES — *** — Ken Takakura, Yang Zhenbo; in Chinese and Japanese, with English subtitles; rated PG (vulgarity, mild profanity).

Despite the long trek promised by its title, "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" isn't in a hurry to get anywhere.

This low-key drama's pacing may seem a little slow and indulgent, but that's been pretty much the case with most works by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou. But he remains one of the most compassionate directors working today, even if "Riding Alone" isn't as rewarding as his two 1999 humanist dramas "Not One Less" and "The Road Home."

The film begins in Japan, as we meet the central character, Gouichi Takata (veteran actor Ken Takakura), a Japanese fisherman who is estranged from his equally stubborn scholar son.

The two have barely spoken in years, but when he discovers his son is ill — possibly critically — Takata tries to reach out to him. Unfortunately, his hospital visit is rebuffed, so Takata decides go to China, to record a folk opera his son was researching.

Unfortunately, his Chinese translators barely understand him, and the man best qualified to perform the opera (Li Jiamin) has been imprisoned.

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The journey Takata takes in the film is as much metaphorical and spiritual as it is physical, which may explain why co-screenwriter/director Zhang employs so much voice-over narration. But some of his direction here is a little too obvious — especially coming from someone who is better known for subtlety and restraint.

Still, the scenery is spectacular, and the movie does boast fine performances by both the stone-faced Takakura and scene-stealing newcomer Yang Zhenbo, who co-stars as a young boy who will play a pivotal role in Takata's reconciliation plan.

"Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" is rated PG for some vulgar toilet humor, scattered use of mild profanity (religiously based) and discussion of some adult themes. Running time: 112 minutes.

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