Four intruders disrupt the wallowing isolation of a forest ranger in debuting Tibetan director Jigme Trinley’s One and Four, an efficient and visually engaging, if slightly familiar, tale of modern encroachment on the natural world and the violence it can bring.
Executive producer Pema Tseden (Trinley’s dad) is easily Tibet’s most prominent filmmaker, having burst on the scene with The Silent Holy Stones in 2005, and star Jinpa is Tseden’s acting equivalent, featured in the director’s Jinpa and Balloon. One and Four is a lightly metaphoric drama about the nature of man as explored through a mistaken-identity pseudo-mystery that could easily come from Tseden’s filmography. Lustrously shot by Tseden’s regular DP, Lv Songye, the film has a polished finish and fleet pace that could win it advocates on the festival circuit. Lv’s work would be well served on the big screen, and Tseden’s producing credit will carry it a fair way after its world premiere at Tokyo.
One and Four
The Bottom Line
A Tibetan ‘Hateful Eight’ with less gore, more metaphor.
One and Four starts with a gloriously dissonant soundscape rather than a score, quickly setting the tone for the action to unfold in a vaguely otherworldly space where nature dominates and the chill gets into the bones. We finally focus on Sanggye (Jinpa), a ranger waking up from a hangover stemming from some bad news, alone in a frigid cabin in the snow-covered Tibetan forest. His existence is a solitary one, which seems to suit him just fine. Shaking off his headache, he ventures out on his daily survey and finds a car wreck with a dead cop (Tsemdo) in the passenger seat. This is the first of four intruders who force their way into Sanggye’s peaceful existence, forcinghim to get his act together and stop hiding from a world he can’t keep at bay.
When Sanggye returns to his cabin, he runs into a wounded forest region cop, referred to only as The Tall Guy (Wang Zheng), who, given his job and the location, Sanggye suspects might be a poacher. Of course the cop claims he himself is looking for the poacher who caused the fatal car crash. While maintaining their suspicious distance from each other, it’s revealed that Sanggye had a visitor the night before, the neighborhood troublemaker Kunbo (Kunde), who comes back after getting lost in the bush. And finally there’s a fourth visitor, another wounded possible cop, The Short Guy (Darggye Tenzin). Before long, accusations are flying and fingers are pointing as Sanggye tries to determine who’s lying and who the poacher is — if there’s a poacher at all.
To his credit, Trinley does a great job of showing rather than telling, and lets his visuals do a great deal of the heavy narrative and thematic lifting; the apple clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree. But compared with the sober Tseden, he has a bit more fun with his storytelling, going so far as to include a jump scare straight out of the horror playbook to introduce Kunbo. It signals the character’s potential to be a threat, which is a nice touch for Trinley to exploit in the service of some rapid character development.
Ultimately, One and Four ends up feeling like a double-cross mystery, a very low-key one, with shades of Cui Siwei’s snowbound Savage, Lu Chuan’s Kekexili and, of course, Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight coloring the proceedings. Trinley isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but it’s also a bit unclear as to what he is trying to accomplish. If this is an anti-poaching screed, it’s too quiet. If it’s a lamentation of the modern world’s impact on the natural one, there’s not enough destruction on display to feel that sorrow, a single mutilated deer aside. The film plays best as a whodunit of sorts, but it’s a respectable debut from an industry with few voices.