Junya Sato's THE SILK ROAD, a large-scale Chinese-Japanese co-production, is watered-down Kurosawa, a comic book spectacle without subtext or emotional involvement.
In the year 1026, royal prince Li Yuanhao (Tsunehiko Watase) forms an army to raid merchants who travel the 5000-mile expanse of the silk road in China. On the road, traveling with a group of merchants, is Zhao Xingde (Koichi Sato), a student tagging along with a caravan en route to the city of
Xixia, where Zhao hopes to learn to read and write the Xixian dialect. But Li's troops, led by Zhu Wangli (Toshiyuki Nishida), attack the caravan and Zhao is taken prisoner. Zhu becomes impressed with Zhao after witnessing his bravery during a ferocious battle and becomes further impressed when he
discovers that Zhao can write.
Li's army is ordered to capture a fortress on the silk road, the Ganzhou Fortress, and Zhao rescues the daughter of the ruler of Ganzhou, Tsurpia (Anna Nakagawa), and hides her from Li's army. They fall in love and sneak away, but they are caught by Zhu, who promises that he will watch after
Tsurpia if Zhao will go to Xixia to learn the language and translate for Prince Li. Zhao leaves for Xixia but is ordered to compile a dictionary and is gone for two years. He returns to find that Tsurpia is to be married to Li. On the day of the wedding, Tsurpia tries to kill Li and, when she
fails, jumps to her death. Zhu reveals that he too has fallen in love with Tsurpia and vows revenge on Li.
In the city of Dun-huauang, a center of learning, Zhu plots to surprise Li during his visit to the city. But the plan fails and Li attacks the city. Zhu charges to his death with the remnants of his army, but not before he manages to hold off the destruction so that Zhao can rescue priceless
parchments in the Dun-huauang library. Zhao takes the parchments and hides them in a secluded cave, where they remained preserved for 800 years.
THE SILK ROAD starts out as a mindless adventure saga and ends up as a paean to librarians and archivists ("... about the people who helped to save the sutras, history tells us nothing and everything," lectures the narrator). But this genuflection to learning is about as vital to this film as
immense, second-unit battle scenes would be to 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD. The sole interest in THE SILK ROAD lies in its battle scenes and mindless adventure rules the day.
Unfortunately, this mindlessness is of the unfocused variety, thanks to THE SILK ROAD's rambling narrative structure. The least that should be expected in films of this type is that the audience should care what happens to the hero, but Koichi Sato is completely bland as the hero and his character
drifts along from battle to battle, unimportant and unnoticed. Why, viewers will wonder, is Zhu so impressed by him and why is Tsurpia so attracted to him? Sato's lackluster screen presence leaves the film without a center, putting greater emphasis on the film's battle scenes. But the battles
never rise above the cartoon level. Though mounted impressively enough, they lack the psychological and metaphysical undercurrents evident in Kurosawa's THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, the film THE SILK ROAD most aspires to.
Director Sato, in apparent desperation, tries to make more of the film than it is by inserting time-lapse shots with macro-closeups of flora and fauna, making the film at odd times look like a cross between WOMAN IN THE DUNES and KOYAANISQATSI. No matter how Sato shakes it, THE SILK ROAD can only
be what it is--a hokey, overblown, cardboard epic. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Junya Sato's THE SILK ROAD, a large-scale Chinese-Japanese co-production, is watered-down Kurosawa, a comic book spectacle without subtext or emotional involvement. In the year 1026, royal prince Li Yuanhao (Tsunehiko Watase) forms an army to raid merchan… (more)