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Zhang back to roots along ‘Riding’ path

Pic shooting in southwest China

SHANGHAI — Turning his back on martial arts, helmer Zhang Yimou is returning to the quieter themes of his earlier work for his latest picture, “Qian li zou dan ji” (Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles), which has started shooting in southwest China.

Zhang’s martial arts epics “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers” did sterling business at the local box office and worldwide.

In his new pic, set in the 1920s, a Japanese man travels to China with his dying son to learn the local opera of Yunnan Province.

The film stars Japanese vet Ken Takakura (“Poppoya”) as the father and Kiichi Nakai (“Warriors of Heaven and Earth”) as his son. Local interest comes in the form of Beijing Film Academy student Jiang Wen (not to be confused with vet helmer-actor Jiang Wen of “Devils on the Doorstep” fame).

Zhang has a reputation for casting unknown actresses who go on to stardom, notably Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi.

In keeping with his recent films, “Riding” is a Zhang Yimou Studio (China)/Edko Films (Hong Kong) production, in association with Beijing New Picture Film Co. Budget is reported to be around 60 million yuan ($7 million), though a spokesman could not confirm this.

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