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“Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.”

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"It sounds like an excellent way to promote Chinese culture."
Martyred cross-generational Asian stoicism acts like so much cinematic Kryptonite on us, so while "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" may have in the end crumpled us like a paper bag, we’ll allow that others may find it a touch cloying. Riding the recent resurgence of wuxia films has apparently afforded Zhang Yimou a more generous perspective toward his homeland; not only is his latest film without the understated barbs that complicated his best early work, it positively idolizes rural village life. Even the regional government bureaucracy comes off as benign.

Part of this stems from the fact that film views China through the eyes of an outsider. Takada (Ken Takakura) is a Japanese fisherman so trapped within his own uncommunicative self that, even though he and his son Kenichi haven’t spoken for a decade, he’s at a loss to explain why. When Kenichi falls ill, but still refuses to see him, Takada becomes convinced that, in order to patch things up between them, he needs to travel to China and tape a particular actor performing the titular opera. Kenichi, a scholar of Chinese opera, missed the performance on his last trip to the area.

And so Takada heads to the Yunnan province to locate actor Li Jiamin, who turns out to be, inconveniently, in jail. Further complications ensue, leading Takada to travel even further with only local Lingo, whose enthusiasm for acting as a translator far outstrips his actual knowledge of Japanese, as his guide. There’s a sullenly cute, bellowing kid, and a group of kind but practical-minded villagers, and along the journey Takada begins through a kind of cultural osmosis to understand his son more.

Cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding, who worked with Zhang on "House of Flying Daggers," presents a ludicrously beautiful world, from the snowy northern beach Takada has retreated to in the film’s beginning to rocky countryside and brilliant skies of the rural villages. He’s equally adept at catching the tiny traces of emotion on Ken Takakura’s weathered face. Takakura, around whom Zhang supposedly shaped the film, makes poignant scenes that shouldn’t possibly be palatable — bonding with a child, watching a group of prisoners clumsily enact an opera. It works only because he’s so gruff and free of charm — even as he opens up, he doesn’t embrace his emotions as much as probe them like the space left by a missing tooth. Watching Li Jiamin, who turns out to be as prone to drama in day-to-day life as on stage, break down and blubber ridiculously, he only muses to himself "I envy Li. He doesn’t hide his feelings. It’s a blessing to be able to express one’s emotions."

We wouldn’t call "Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles" a return to the more intimate films Zhang was known for — as much as it’s quietly enjoyable, it’s also quietly simplistic. Still, it’s a nice respite from the lurid martial arts epics that have become the standard Chinese festival film (being a throwback to the sentimental ones that such films replaced). A respite for now, at least — Zhang’s "Curse of the Golden Flower" is due in theaters in December.

Opens in limited release September 1st.

+ "Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles" (Sony)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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