The Horse Thief

From the April 1, 1988 Chicago Reader. — J.R.




Tian Zhuangzhuang’s 1985 feature, set in the remote wilds of Tibet with a cast of local nonprofessionals, is a breathtaking spectacle in ‘Scope and color, perhaps the most personal of all the Fifth Generation Beijing films to have emerged from the People’s Republic of China (at least until Tian’s subsequent The Blue Kite). Tian’s originality and mastery of sound and image communicate directly, beyond the immediate trappings of the film’s slender plot (a horse thief expelled from his clan) and regional culture (Buddhist death rituals), expressing an environmental and ecological mysticism that suggests a new relationship between man and nature. Tian had said that he made this for the 21st century, yet even today it’s a film of the future. In Mandarin with subtitles. 88 min. (JR)


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