Film review: ONE MILE ABOVE, from Built For Speed

One Mile Above from director Jiayi Du is a mostly successful mix of humanist drama, travelogue and adventure story that occasionally recalls Sean Penn’s Into the Wild in its tale of a man confronting the elements and himself.

The film follows the journey of young Taiwanese man Zhang (Zhang Shuhao) who decides to honour his late brother by completing a cycling trek his brother had planned from Liang in south west China to the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

Zhang ‘s journey turns out to be alot more gruelling than he anticipated as he has to confront mental and physical exhaustion, altitude sickness, treacherous mountain passes, freezing weather, savage dogs and unsympathetic truck drivers. The film also at times resembles an episode of a Bear Grylls TV shows as it details the survival and improvised bike maintenance techniques Zhang is forced to employ on the road.

Zhang’s trek also exposes him to the wonders of Tibet with its stunning mountainous landscapes, welcoming people and a culture infused with ancient practices and Buddhist traditions. Some might suggest that this is a gratuitous plug for Tibetan tourism but I hardly think the Tibetan tourist bureau would try and sell their country through Zhang’s brutal and dangerous journey.

Zhang’s pilgrimage is as much psychological as physical or geographical and through him the film explores themes of personal commitment, family bonds and spirituality.

Where the film stumbles is in its awkward mix of raw realism and intrusive music video-style aesthetics which include choppy editing and fever dream hallucinations which at one point involve a strange unicorn monster.

For most of the film we are immersed in Zhang’s daily physical and emotional experiences which are by themselves compelling but make for a limited storyline. We are provided with little information about his background that might put his actions into context.

This film is often quite emotional particularly when Zhang sees reflections of his lost brother in the Tibetan people and fellow cyclists he encounters. While this approach is often genuinely affecting it also threatens to make the film overly sentimental at times.

This is a flawed film but for the most part an involving and moving testament to the power of family loyalty.


Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Jiayi Du.

Release date: 6th June 2013.

Running time: 90 mins.


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