«They say that if your first sight in Deqin is that Thirteen Peaks of Meili, you’ll enjoy good fortune for a full year».
These are the words pronounced with sadness by Li Xiaochuan, a cyclist who’s riding for three years all along the road from Lijiang, in the Yunnan region in China, to Lhasa, the sacred Tibetan capital. The road is apparently endless and winding, it is more than 1100 miles long to be covered on a bicycle saddle climbing all the tracks on eight different mountains, reaching almost unbearable altitudes. Xiaochuan experience the journey as a pilgrimage, a walk towards spiritual purity represented by the sincerity of which he’s talking in a marvelous confront while standing in front of the wonderful landscape of the thirteen creamy and snowy peaks of Meili. “Kora” is the way they call this pilgrimage in Tibet, obviously tied to the Buddhist tradition, translated in the international title “One Mile Above”, English for the original one “Zhuan Shuan”.
A film by the former producer Du Jiayi at his debut on the director’s chair, “One Mile Above” is an adaptation of the novel “Zhang Shuan” written by Xie Wanglin, Taiwanese as his main character Zhang Shuhao. Our first impact with him gives us an abrupt beginning, Jiayi brings the audience to Shuwei’s funeral, Zhang’s older brother, whose dream to ride across the path to Lhasa won’t be realized, but it will remain a desire organized and written on his diary. Shuhao doesn’t think twice about it and steals the diary from the coffin, convinced that the only way to forget the pain of his loss is to make his brother’s dream come true and starting cycling through the mountains. Our protagonist is inexperienced and not really in shape as someone should be before embarking on a venture that involves one of the most dangerous tracks, even for professionals, but he decides anyway to throw himself into a journey which we’ll give him the chance to finally find and give peace to his spirit, the friendship with the tormented Li Xiaochuan, and a better understanding of life: if you want to reach the peak, you’ll have to sacrifice the good chances life is offering you.
At a fist glance the movie could be seen as a lame excuse to show the outstanding natural beauties of both Yunnan and Tibet, two places that can boast lots of wonderful landscapes, in which sharp and deadly rocks are mixed with the softness of the snow gently spread all over the Himalayan mountains like creamy icing on a cupcake. It’s a cooking metaphor loved and often used by Li Xiao-Chuan – actors and characters’ names are almost the same – who sees cookies and cakes recipes in the peaks he’s longing to see from Deqin so that’ll be able to hope for a lucky year. Jiayi wants to tell us about the pain and sourness that a person must experience and inhale, with difficulty because of the altitude, before he could be able to feel in his own soul that he has gone beyond his physical and spiritual limits, of which their final combination to unlock inner powers rise himself as a spectacular whole.
The deepness of the plot and the powerful acting of our two fellow companions (Li Xiao-Chuan and Chang Shu-hao in the role of the boy) are two elements which make this debut a real breakthrough and one of the best Asian movies of 2011, but it mustn’t be forgotton the beautiful directing by Du Jiayi, who seems to link together a National Geographic look to moments of introspectiveness that show the human physical strength giving it the rightful place in the long shots that splendidly adorn this film. It certainly helps Du Jie, the cinematographer who creates wonderful lights capable of carving out a new way to feel the whites, strong and delicate at the same time, on which rebound like a sun ray the music composed by Oshima Michiru. These are the huge details that build the beauty of this movie that needs to be seen by the largest audience possible, to help everyone to finally find themselves!