What starts out as somber turns to sentimental, especially in the last half-hour or so, as Takata travels to a remote village and bonds with the 8-year-old illegitimate son of the imprisoned Li. The films messages about family are universal and hard to deny, and Takatas desire to make things right with his son is affecting, particularly in his stilted phone conversations with his daughter-in-law. But every time that Takata comes to some understanding about his relationship with his son, Zhang has Takakura explain it in a voice-over that robs the drama of much of its quiet power. The confusion of a foreigner immersed in a land where he cannot speak the language is also somewhat difficult to convey to American audiences to whom both languages are foreign (and subtitled)not that thats Zhangs fault, but it does mute some of the films impact.
The most frustrating thing about Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (named after the opera Takata wants Li to perform) is that its relentless sentimentality soon turns disingenuous, and by the end its hard to believe that Takata has really connected with Lis son in the way Zhang depicts it, or that hes really learned how to have a meaningful relationship with his own son.