Soul on a String

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - The Rings, Soul on a String Soul on a String, Lord of

It took Peter Jack­son three long movies to get Frodo the hob­bit to Mount Doom with the ring of power in tow. from Chi­nese direc­tor Zhang Yang, fol­lows a wan­der­ing ne’er-do-well on a sim­i­lar quest across the arid Ti­betan plateau, as he car­ries a sa­cred stone to the moun­tain of Ke­long. There are no orcs or drag­ons in this movie, but as with

it’s a long, strange trip. The ac­tion of the film is set in mo­tion by sev­eral pro­logue seg­ments. In one of these, a hunter named Tabei (Kimba) kills a deer and dis­cov­ers a holy stone in its mouth. He is then struck by light­ning and sub­se­quently res­ur­rected by Ti­betan monks. Af­ter a brief in­tru­sion by the open­ing ti­tles, the jour­ney be­gins.

Tabei is, to put it bluntly, a jerk. As he sets out to carry the sa­cred stone to a re­gion de­scribed as the “palm print of the lo­tus mas­ter” — a sys­tem of canyons that re­sem­bles the criss­cross­ing lines on a hu­man palm, said to have been cre­ated when the Bud­dha smashed a de­mon into the earth — he ac­quires two trav­el­ing com­pan­ions. The first is a shep­herdess named Chung (Quni Ciren), who, un­for­tu­nately for her, be­comes smit­ten with Tabei (he treats her like dirt). The sec­ond is a bedrag­gled boy whom Chung nick­names Pu (Yizi Danzeng). As the trio makes its way, they are pur­sued by brothers who want re­venge on Tabei for killing their fa­ther. A mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure named Gedan, ac­com­pa­nied by his dog Gen­eral, is also on their trail.

The nar­ra­tive can be hard to fol­low. The script was adapted from a pair of mag­i­cal-re­al­ist tales by con­tem­po­rary Ti­betan writer Tashi Dawa and grounded in cul­tural tra­di­tions the film­mak­ers pre­sume au­di­ences will be fa­mil­iar with. On top of that, the edit­ing doesn’t al­ways help view­ers keep track of what’s go­ing on. In one scene, Tabei awakes in camp at night, an­tic­i­pat­ing an en­emy at­tack. He rises and heads into the dark­ness with his sword drawn. In the fol­low­ing scene, Tabei, Chung, and Pu are be­ing rowed to­ward shore in a boat. What hap­pened? Ap­par­ently noth­ing worth not­ing.

But what lacks in sto­ry­telling pre­ci­sion it makes up for in vis­ual splen­dor. Por­tions of the story un­fold in a green flood plain along a river that winds through sandy hills, with snow­capped peaks on the hori­zon. There are dunes evoca­tive of White Sands and spec­tac­u­larly eroded for­ma­tions rem­i­nis­cent of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks Na­tional Mon­u­ment near Co­chiti. The light­ing is con­sis­tently gor­geous, from the stark sun on the ac­tors’ faces to the warm glow of lanterns in a road­side tav­ern. And there’s a sort of in­ner light that in­forms the tale as well, hav­ing to do with Tabei’s spir­i­tual trans­for­ma­tion and the for­give­ness of multi­gen­er­a­tional griev­ances. It’s the jour­ney, not the des­ti­na­tion, that mat­ters, or so it’s said, but here the des­ti­na­tion mat­ters too. — Jeff Acker

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