Tea Horse Route

(Titre chinois : Cha ma gu dao xi lie)
Sunday 5 March 2006
Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang
Written by Tian Zhuangzhuang
Country China-Japan
Year of Production 2004
Running Time 110 minutes

The ’Tea Horse Route’ is the highest and most perilous of China’s ancient trading routes, originating in western Yunnan, ascending the Tibetan plateau, winding through the edges of the Himalayas into Nepal and Bhutan and leading into India. Tea was carried along this route by pack-mules for more than two millennia, and mule-packers still negotiate the narrow dirt-tracks and impossible mountain passes - nowadays, though, carrying construction materials for the coming road which is going to obliterate traditional ways of life in the region. Armed with High-Definition cameras, Tian Zhuangzhuang sets out to document the Chinese-Tibetan origins of this route. The images of the region’s topography are as spectacular as you’d expect from the director of Horse Thief - snowy crags, verdant river valleys, remote villages - but Tian is, of course, more interested in the people than the place. He pauses to record interviews with those he meets along the way: a Christian pastor from the Lisu tribe, a 104-year-old woman who’s outliving her own bad memories, a young, bigamous Tibetan, and the owner of Delamu, a hardy mule whose name means ’Angel of Peace’ in Tibetan. Fascinating beyond words.

Tony Rayns from London Film Festival - Archive 2004


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