Winner of the Artistic Contribution Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival, this beautifully shot film, tells the story of a gruelling bike ride across the Tibetan Himalayas as a man tries to lay his brother’s spirit to rest by completing his dream. Along the way he meets a friend and mentor who joins him in his journey, a journey that would be harsh to even an experienced cyclist. Based on the book ‘Kora’ it is inspired by a true story.

A new cut of this film, originally screened as ‘Kora’, was shown at the Berlin film festival, along with this comment from Favelle of Odin’e Eye Entertainment: “One Mile Above has more of a classic Western sensibility than is typical of a Chinese film … perhaps why its takings in China were modest,” he said when asked why he picked up director Du Jiayi’s film.[*] It was however 5th in the top ten list of Chinese films of 2011, so ‘modest takings’ aside, I would say it was actually quite successful.

The Tibetan word kora refers to the circumambulation of a sacred site within a context of pilgrimage and meditation. There are some set kora walks round sacrd temples and places, but kora are more often performed via chanting mantras, prayer and  prayer wheels turned clockwise 107 times. That sense of clockwise motion is an easy and beautiful analogy to the wheels of the bicycle, but less so the calming action it should bring for, the journey undertaken is fraught with hazards and the scenery so breathtakingly beautiful it makes your heart race. It’s not until the end of the film that we understand the peace of spirit the kora has wrought, that it’s the joy of being alive, of experiencing and appreciating the journey that calms the spirit and allows it to rejoice.

I was keen to see this film based on the reports of the ‘achingly beautiful’ scenery and I was not disappointed. A joint Taiwanese/Chinese collaboration, it makes good use of the beautiful landscape and traditions of the areas and emotes a similar feel to films such as ‘Cave of the Yellow Dog’. Sweet, sentimental moments break up the harsh episodes and I enjoyed seeing the change in ShuHao as he progresses from youthful health to the weatherbeaten, accident damaged man at the finish. Admirably played by Bryan Chang, he really projects the lonliness of an undertaking such as this and how determined we must be to resist settling in a more comfortable place in order to achieve what wish.

The more I think back over this film, the more it affects me and I will be sure to add this one to my collection. I think there are still hidden layers to explore in meaning and action that I will get from more viewing. I enjoyed seeing the making of the film in the credits, small snapshots to shoow the journey the crew had to take with each other to bring the film to the screen.