Taiwan/Hong Kong/China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 103 mins.
Director: Hong Shengyang 洪昇扬 [Simon Hung].
Good-looking but very corny follow-your-dream sports film, centred on a Taiwan marathon runner.
The Silk Road, mid-1990s. Fang Chongyu (Huang Yuan) is running a 10,000-kilometre, solo ultra-marathon from Turkey to Xi’an for charity, en route battling wolves and sandstorms. As a boy (Guo Zhijian) in Taibei, he had always followed his elder brother, Xuan (Chen Changhong), who was also obsessed by running, and in his teens switched schools against the wishes of his father (Long Shaohua) in order to be with him. Despite opposition from the school’s trainer (Fan Guangyao), Fang Chongyu was taken onto the marathon team and coached by the assistant trainer, Yiqing (Lai Yayan), for whom he developed a liking. Xuan’s girlfriend Xiaoke (Jian Liwen) announced she was pregnant and the two visited a backstreet doctor (Lu Huiguang) to have an abortion; but at the last minute they decided to have the baby, despite the opposition of her father (Wang Daonan). Meanwhile, Yiqing had trained Fang Chongyu hard. He discovered she had a “daughter”, Xiaomi (Le Le) – actually a young girl at the orphanage she grew up in who had become attached to her. Meanwhile, Xuan had started delivering illegal drugs for the backstreet doctor in order to earn extra money now he was a father. Despite a serious leg injury from over-training, Fang Chongyu had insisted on taking part in the 42-kilometre 6th Qimei International Marathon, in which Xuan was also taking part; however, he was forced to pull out halfway. Yiqing tended his wound but, when he asked her to be his Lady Luck, she had left her high-school internship and disappeared. While slowly recuperating in 1994, Fang Chongyu worked as a taxi driver and also became involved in Xuan’s drug deliveries to help fund his marathon dreams. One day he bumped into Yiqing with her doctor fiance (Li Zhizheng); later, she paid for him to take part in a 273-kilometre event in Utah, in the US. He won, but before he could take part in the Silk Road ultra-marathon, tragedy struck.
A long-distance runner overcomes all the odds to do a Silk Road ultra-marathon for charity in 10,000 Miles 一万公里的约定, the second feature by Taiwan-born, Los Angeles-based film-maker Hong Shengyang 洪昇扬 [Simon Hung], 35, after his low-budget sci-fi adventure Battle for Skyark (2015). Taiwan cinema is especially keen on “inspirational” sporting movies – Close to You 近在咫尺 (2010, boxing), Jump Ashin! 翻滚吧！阿信 (2011, gymnastics), Step Back to Glory 志气 (2013, tug-of-war) – but despite eye-catching photography by Haga Hiroyuki 芳贺弘之, the Japanese-born, LA-based d.p. who shot Skyark, the film is only an average-at-best entry in the mini-genre. Despite being inspired by real-life Taiwan marathon runner Lin Yijie 林义杰 [Kevin Lin] – who gets a producer credit on the film – the script is so weighed down by cliches that it hardly gets its feet off the ground.
Amid all the grit, sweat, pain and exhortations like “nothing is impossible”, there’s the hard father who just wants his son to study well, the tough-but-tender trainer who hides a trauma in her past, the elder brother who becomes involved in petty crime, and even a cute orphan child for good measure. Marinate in a soupy score by Canadian composer Josh Cruddas, stir gently for an hour or so, and then add a whole pile of melodramatic cliches and bring to the boil. Individual performances – especially by actress Lai Yayan 赖雅妍, 37, as the trainer, and Wang Dalu 王大陆, 25, as the elder brother – compensate for some of the corn but can’t overcome it. Wang, who was strong as the cocky brawler in rom-com Our Times 我的少女时代 (2015), is well cast as the hero’s wastrel but caring sibling, while Lai, who didn’t have much to do as the stern lesbian in Cafe. Waiting. Love 等 一个人 咖啡 (2014), brings an emotional subtlety to the trainer role that the script hardly deserves. Unfortunately, she’s paired opposite the inexpressive Huang Yuan 黄远, 25 – who also weakly played a marathon runner in the dreadful Fantôme, où es-tu? 酷马 (2010) – so there’s not much two-way chemistry to help drive the film, especially when Huang’s character is so self-centred and ungrateful, with a massive chip on his shoulder.
Starting and ending with Our Hero on the Silk Road marathon, most of the film is a long flashback devoted to how he got there. Apart from some corny entanglements with CGI wolves, little time is spent on the ultra-marathon itself – a feat that the real-life Lin Yijie completed in Sep 2011. There’s also no good reason why the story is set in the mid-1990s, apart from giving an excuse for actor-singer Zhou Jielun 周杰伦 [Jay Chou] to play himself as an aspiring songwriter. The cameo (halfway through, as a taxi passenger) seems typical of the whole lazily constructed, self-referential screenplay, and marks a weak producing debut by Zhou after mixed success as a director (the interesting Secret 不能说的秘密, 2007; the awful The Rooftop 天台, 2013). In China the film crashed and burned, grossing a tiny RMB3.7 million.
The Chinese title literally means “The 10,000-Kilometre Appointment”, referring to the hero’s dream of running an ultra-marathon along the Silk Road. The English title cavalierly changes the distance to 10,000 miles. As in so many Taiwan films, the characters are also given silly English names in the subtitles.
Presented by Dream Started (TW), Sun Entertainment Culture (HK), iQiyi Motion Pictures (CN). Produced by Dream Started (TW), Light + Shadow Films (TW).
Script: Hong Shengyang [Simon Hung], Chen Jiawei. Photography: Haga Hiroyuki. Editing: Jiang Yining, You Zhihan, Chris A. Peterson. Music: Josh Cruddas. Art direction: Lin Meng’er. Costume design: Lin Yuyun. Sound: Gao Weiyan, Du Duzhi, Jiang Lianzhen. Martial arts: Zheng Tongcun. Visual effects: Guo Xiancong, Li Wujian, Fang Dongxuan (Plus FX Design Studio).
Cast: Huang Yuan (Fang Chongyu/Kevin), Lai Yayan (Yiqing/Ellie), Wang Dalu (Xuan/Sean, Fang Chongyu’s elder brother), Jack Noseworthy (Charlie, marathon runner), Fan Guangyao (Pan, trainer), Long Shaohua (Fang Chongyu’s father), Lu Huiguang [Ken Lo] (backstreet doctor), Peng Peng (shopkeeper’s wife), Liao Jun (shopkeeper), Weng Ningqian (backstreet doctor’s assistant), Jian Liwen (Xiaoke, Xuan’s girlfriend), Le Le (Xiaomi, orphan), Li Zhizheng (Yiqing’s fiance), Xu Liyun (orphanage head), Guo Zhijian (young Fang Chongyu), Chen Changhong (young Xuan), Huang Qijun (taxi passenger), Zhou Jielun [Jay Chou] (himself), Wang Daonan (Xiaoke’s father), Jiang Shaoyi (Xiaoke’s mother).
Release: Taiwan, 16 Dec 2016; Hong Kong, 12 Jan 2017; China, 6 Jan 2017.