One and Four Jigme Trinley

‘One and Four,’ a Thrilling Western-Genre Film Shot in Tibet

The award-winning film hitches its wagon to a western-inspired screenplay, breathtaking cinematography, and a beautifully-orchestrated soundtrack

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10:31 AM HKT, Thu August 18, 2022 3 mins read

Set in an unnamed countryside in the thick of winter, Jigme Trinley’s 2021 film One and Four (一个和四个) is a ‘daytime noir that revolves around an eventful day in the life of a Tibetan forest ranger.

Played by Tibetan actor Jinpa, who frequently appears in contemporary Tibetan films, protagonist Sanggye is paid multiple visits by mysterious men, one after another.

One and Four Jigme Tringly

Editor’s Note: Spoilers ahead; you’ve been warned!

Comparable to 1950 Jidaigeki psychological thriller and crime film Rashomon, One and Four unpacks multiple accounts as seen through the eyes of its main characters, who are highly suspicious of one another.

A cop aka ‘Tall Guy experiences a flashback of the events that led to his being injured: a car chase that ended with a crash and the death of the cop’s partner. While Tall Guy survived the car accident, he was wounded by a poacher while hiding out in the woods.

Sanggye suspects that his first guest is not the cop he claims to be, but the poacher. After the duo investigates the site of the crash, however, and equip themselves with a weapon for self-defense, Sanggye’s doubt dwindles.

One and Four Jigme Tringly

They return to the cabin, and audiences discovers that Sanggye had in fact received another guest before Tall Guy’s arrival; tasked with delivering divorce papers from Sanggye’s wife, a neighbor by the name of Kunbo had paid Sanggye a visit before dawn. Nevertheless, no one knows why Kunbo called upon Sanggye so early in the morning — until later in the film.

After Sanggye and Tall Guy warm up with drinks and rejuvenate themselves, they are rudely interrupted by Kunbo, who breaks down the door with an axe. Sanggye and Tall Guy overpower Kunbo and tie him up while accusing him of being the poacher.

Next, Tall Guy forces Kunbo to carry out a task with him, leaving Sanggye alone in the cabin.

One and Four Jigme Tringly

In the denouement, a fourth character — simply called ‘Short Guy’ — claiming to be a forestry cop enters the cabin before Tall Guy and Kunbo return.

The film culminates with a dramatic confrontation and crosscuts of the two cops denouncing one other; each claims to be ‘the real cop.’ A completely disorientated Sanggye (and audience members, almost certainly) are provided with a series of flashbacks packed with easter eggs that hint at the identity of the true poacher.

The open-ended whodunnit, which earned critical acclaim after making its world premiere at Tokyo International Film Festival last year and North American premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival on July 16, was screened at the recent FIRST International Film Festival in Xining, China, where it won Best Narrative Film and Best Director on August 4.

Not unlike Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015), One and Four’s ensemble sees a colorful cast whose roles bear equal weight. Meanwhile, the film’s bleak setting, a snow-clad no-man’s-land, is reminiscent of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant (2015).

Albeit One and Four’s filming location — a Tibetan-speaking region in Qinghai province — and predominantly Tibetan crew, the film is strikingly different from its predecessors, most of which are profoundly tied to Tibetan culture in one way or another. Take, for example, Yang Zhang’s Paths of the Soul (2015), which addresses the topic of religious prostration, or Pema Tseden’s Ballon (2015), which highlights the clash between indigenous culture and modernity.

One and Four film crew

Director Jigme Trinley (third from left), director Pema Tseden (second from right), and members of One and Four’s film crew gesturing ‘one and four’ at the FIRST International Film Festival. Photo via Runjie Wang/RADII

Many wonder to what extent the director’s debut was influenced by Tseden, who is not only Trinley’s father, but also a mover and shaker in contemporary Tibetan cinema, and the producer of One and Four.

During a Q&A at the film’s screening at FIRST on August 3, Tseden admitted to visiting One and Four’s set on the first few of days of shooting. Afterwards, however, “the director wanted to let Wang Lei (the other producer) and the cinematographer pass on the message that I shouldn’t have come to visit,” he added.

Regardless of idle talk, Trinleys new film and Tseden’s oeuvre of arthouse films bear little in common. The former, which is replete with guns, booze, boots, barren landscapes, and machismo, is undoubtedly a western, a thriller, or a combination of both.

During the Q&A, Trinley named Tarantino and Iñárritu, two directors known for their westerns, as his key influences while studying at the Beijing Film Academy. For example, the Tibetan filmmaker borrowed a trick employed by Oscar Award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki in The Revenant: During emotionally charged scenes, close-ups of characters are rendered using wide angles, which results in distortions, creating dramatic and visceral impressions.

The Revenant

A scene from Ariandro Gonzalez Inaritu’s The Revenant. Image via IMDB

Despite One and Four’s coordinates, the film is not another attempt to tell a Tibetan tale, but a locality-defying story that demystifies Tibetan culture, which is often exoticized in media portrayals.

All photos via Weibo, unless specified

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