"1 Mile Above" is a spare, at times lovely film based on the novel "Zhuan Shan" by Xie Wang Lin.
Directed by Du Jiayi and adapted by Chang Chia-Lu and Cheng Hsiao-Che, it follows the true-life story of Shuhao (Bryan Chang), a 24-year-old graduate student who tackles the grueling bicycle trek across Southwest China that his recently deceased brother planned, but never finished.
Shuhao, woefully ill-prepared for a trip that will traverse some of the highest — and most remote — regions of Tibet, ages before our eyes as he endures pain, exhaustion, harsh weather and many life-threatening hurdles to honor his late brother's spirit.
While it's a largely solitary mission, Shuhao is treated to the kindness of strangers en route: Xiaochuan (Li Xiaochuan), a veteran cyclist Shuhao rides with until they're separated by a severe accident; a pretty young widow and her in-laws who take in Shuhao overnight; a rural doctor who treats Shuhao for food poisoning, and a mother and daughter on a holy pilgrimage.
While we're with Shuhao all the way — and Chang's portrayal is certainly empathetic — surprisingly little is revealed about him or the brother for whom he has taken such a giant leap. So, as the deliberately paced film never gets under the character's skin, it doesn't quite get under ours.
Still, it's a physically impressive, visually compelling journey.
'1 Mile Above'
MPAA Rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
Playing: At AMC's Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun