The Chinese film Postmen In The Mountains could be said to reveal itself with its title, except that the title of the Peng Jianming short story it adapts did an even better job: "That Mountain, That Man, That Dog." Opening in the Hunan foothills, Postmen focuses squarely on a few meaningful (though outwardly uneventful) days in the life of soon-to-retire postman Teng Rujun as he prepares to hand over his duties to his son Liu Ye. Accompanied by their eager German shepherd, they make a winding uphill journey to deliver the mail to remote villagers who see them as the only regular contact with the outside world. With a transistor radio tied to his hat, the son trots behind the father as the father follows the dog, whose familiar bark signals that the mail is on its way.
The only interruptions in their journey are Teng's occasional flashbacks to key events in his professional and personal life. These put the emphasis on the sacrifices he's made to perform his duty, but the mood is more accepting than regretful. What sadness there is comes from his reluctance to surrender the humble career that's defined him since adulthood, a sadness at least partially offset by the pleasure of passing it on to his son.
Director Huo Jianqi began his directing career in his 40s, so it's not clear which character he most identifies with. That might account for the film's sweet evenhandedness. Capturing a transitional moment in the lives of all involved, Postmen spends time on both sides of the transition, with a particular emphasis on Liu's education about the job's unexpected duties, like the special attention needed by a blind mother waiting to hear from her city-dwelling son. Huo tells the tale humbly, letting the story play out quietly against the beautiful landscapes of remotest China. He never quite finds the filmic vocabulary to tilt the film toward greatnessand the mawkish synth score does little to helpbut Postmen In The Mountains ultimately succeeds in not only fulfilling its opening promise of paying tribute to rural postmen, but also in lionizing everyone who strives to do a job with determination, kindness, and no expectation of any greater reward.