Seven retired Chinese from different backgrounds and life experiences come together to form a cycling team. They take an extraordinary journey from the industrial city of Lanzhou in north-west China, across the Tanggula Mountain and Tibetan plateau to Lhasa and finally to the Everest Base Camp. The whole journey is 3,100 kilometres and takes the cyclists across five mountains with altitudes of over 5,200 metres. After conquering countless difficulties, they eventually realise their long-cherished dream, to cross the Roof of the World on bicycles.
Among these seven, the oldest is 66, a man who had a brush with death when he suffered a stroke. Another was left paralysed for a year after being poisoned in an industrial accident. There are two women among the team. All come from Guangzhou, the metropolis in southern China also known as Canton, and the first city to open to the outside world under Deng Xiao Ping’s reforms. In the highly commercialised city, people have changed significantly over the last twenty years. Lives are dominated by materialism and the quest for wealth, a sharp contrast to the Maoist days. But these seven men and women are looking to find fulfillment by setting themselves a gruelling personal challenge.Co-director Zhang Zeming emerged in the mid-1980s as one of the leading new talents in southern China with his ground-breaking debut feature, SWAN SONG (Juexiang, 1985). ACROSS THE PLATEAU is one of his most rewarding films – visually spectacular and rich in emotion and strong characters. The seven cyclists all survived traumatic experiences during the Cultural Revolution, and their life experiences contribute to their determination and stamina in tackling their adventures late in life. From their story, we glimpse China’s past and present, and in particular the changing culture of the people.
“I found Across the Plateau an absolutely engrossing experience. It is a deceptively simple film – the quest of a group of retired Chinese men and women testing body and spirit to the limits on a bicycle journey in the Himalayas. But so beautifully crafted and subtle is the work of director Zhang Zeming that on the way the cyclists carry the viewer to quite unexpected places: an appreciation of the debilitating effects of the Cultural Revolution that crippled a generation; the explosion of the silly myth of the “inscrutable Oriental”; and most surprisingly, the warm relationships that have developed between Chinese and Tibetan people. As unpretentious as the “hotel” stopovers on the Tibetan plateau, and as raw as the icy winds that torture the riders, it is truly a journey worth the taking.” – Robert Macklin, author.