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Himalaya: Ladder to Paradise

A Film Review

Himalaya: Ladder to Paradise

Reviewed by Hannah Lau

Directed by Xiao Han and Liang Junjian. Hangzhou Latent Image Cultural Co., Ltd.
China, 2015, 84 minutes
Mandarin Chinese, Tibetan; Chinese and English subtitles
Film can be viewed on YouTube.  Trailer is available here. 

The act of climbing Mt. Everest is nothing new. In fact, over the years the adventure has become increasingly accessible, allowing more than just the elite few to cross it off their bucket lists. But to climb it is one thing, what about the people who’ll actually get you there?

Ladder to Paradise, a documentary, draws our attention to a growing part of Tibetan society where a new generation of young people are carving out their careers as guides up Mt. Everest. It’s more than a job. To them, it’s marrying the spiritual meaning within the mountains with a passionate enthusiasm to make a living in an exciting new way.

The story begins at the Tibet Mountaineering Guide School in Lhasa, capital city of Tibet, where we’re introduced to a group of young trainee guides who, unlike the generations before them who were mostly herdsmen, have chosen a different path. Even the son of the only monk at Rongbuk Monastery, one of the highest monasteries in the world, near Everest’s peak, is now a mountain guide.

Directors Xiao Han and Liang Junjian, take the audience on a beautiful journey that goes above and beyond the trek up the mountain. By following the lives of these mountain guides, viewers get a local’s perspective on Tibetan culture, including the relationship between the people, the mountain, and the ties to their beliefs.

Throughout the preparations, the training, and eventually the climb up the mountain, it’s obvious the role faith plays in the lives of these young mountaineers. From seeking blessing from family to hanging prayer flags at vital points of the climb, the guides see this as very much a spiritual experience.

The four-year production effort, shot in 4k resolution, on location, at incredible altitudes, brought about hard-earned but absolutely stunning cinematography. Furthermore, because of its documentary style, there isn’t a Hollywood sheen that requires the audience to suspend reality in order to believe what’s happening. Every cliff drop, every blizzard, every ice-picked step, the grandness of it all is real and speaks for itself.

In a post-screening Q and A at the 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival, director Xiao Han expressed that he wanted the film to, in essence, tell it like it is. And true to his intention, that’s how the film plays out. The film does a fantastic job of showing the subtle tension between the commercialization of climbing and the locals that still maintain the religious significance of the mountaineering experience.

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Hannah Lau

Hannah Lau

Hannah Lau was born and raised in Canada. Growing up with immigrant parents from Hong Kong gave her a rich perspective on both Eastern and Western cultures. She has spent her adult life in Asia, beginning in China serving through work in the marketplace. With a colorful and hard-earned career in …View Full Bio

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