Postmen in the Mountains

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Walking together for 112 kilometers

Nov 22, 2012 (Updated Nov 22, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:cast, scenery of backwater Hunan

Cons:musical overkill, poor subtitls

The Bottom Line: A simple, bittersweet story of sacrifices and craftsmanship belatedly recognized (better late than never...)

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

“Postmen in the Mountains” (Nashan Naren Nagou = "That Mountain, That Man, That Dog," 1999), directed by Huo Jianqi (A Love of Blueness, Nuan) is a bittersweet tale of the succession of generations in the mountains of Suining County and Dao County, in southwestern  Hunan province. . A wiry, undemonstrative Chinese postman (Ten Rujun, the uncle in Zhang Yimou's "Red Sorghum") developed some problem, apparently from micro-organisms or not so micro- ones in the water of mountain streams he forded on an exceedingly arduous 112-km three-day-long mail road delivering mail to Dong tribesmen. He has been retired and his route passed on to his hunky son (Ye Liu, who would go on to play Lan Yu, the cello-playing one of the sent-down-to-the-country urban students besotted with the rural seamstress in “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” and the crown prince in “Curse of the Golden Flower”).

The father prepares the mailbag and a map for his son. The father’s trusty canine companion, Loa-Er (Old Second), does not follow the new mailman, and the father decides to go along and show the son the way. (I have to say that I am astounded that he could have hefted the mailbag on his last trips!). Nothing very dramatic happens. The son, who has been raised by a hill-tribeswoman who bore and raised him during the father-husband’s lengthy absences back to her homeland, has always found his father emotionally distant, as well as being usually gone. On the trip, the son is able to see how much his father is cherished by the villagers and to see some of the compassionate ministrations his father delivered along with the mail. And I saw that there are non-desert parts of the PRC that are sparsely populated, with a few Han officials and poor hill tribesmen (and a young woman who clicks with the new postman, though he is mindful of his mother’s lifetime of longing for home while left alone among the Han Chinese in a city).

The German shepherd has a lot of energy and stamina for its ostensible age (12 years) and makes a heroic save/catch of an envelope that has blown away. There are perils, but not epic/thriller ones  (no bandits, landslides, or floods). The story is simple with no human characters given names, unshowy performances (except, perhaps the dog’s), striking mountainous scenery, bits of folk culture, one pretty Dong girl.

I don’t think the son’s voiceover narration was needed, though it didn’t annoy me. The flashbacks are quite obvious: this was not intended as an art film, but as a tribute to humble workers doing their jobs and misunderstood (at least somewhat) by their (at least somewhat) neglected families. The soundtrack music is mawkish. I prefer that which the son plays or sings en route. Plus that at a lusheng dance in which the son participates when there is a wedding celebration in the Dong village.

The DVD has a brief introduction (that notes winning Golden Roosters for best picture, director, and supporting actor; Ye was only nominated for best-supporting-actor) and English subtitles that are frustrating in being unoutlined white, often displaying briefly (except when showing up ahead of the lines), and less-than-grammatical (which is unusual for films from the PRC, which generally are in better English than ones from Hong Kong).

©2012, Stephen O. Murray

Also see Chen Kaige's "Together" and Zhang Yimou's  and "Riding Alone for a Thousand Miles" for understated if intense father-son appreciation movies from China. (My title is a tribute or at least a play on the last of these.) And for another determined, ultra-sincere, young functionary in the countryside, Zhang's "Not One Less."

Recommend this product? Yes

Viewing Format: DVD
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12

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