Western-friendly director Zhang Yimou’s latest, following on the heels of the critically and financially heralded House of Flying Daggers and Hero, would make for a terrific lesson on how not to carefully control and shape the tone of a film. Structured as a redemptive quest in which Gou-ichi Takata (a servicably stoical Ken Takakura) tries to repair the broken relationship with his estranged, dying son by seeking out a legendary actor to perform the Chinese folk operas the unforgiving offspring so loves, Riding Alone compares unfavorably, when held up to the light of emotional truthfulness, to a close cousin like David Lynch’s career-anomalous The Straight Story. The latter finds a delicate working balance between genre conventions and a subtle, mournful melancholy of aging and regret that transcends manipulative catharsis; Riding Alone never achieves the same, sincere as its intentions and feelings are. Too many false cues push the film from modest to maudlin — an overbearing orchestral score, Takata’s needless, redundant voiceover observations, the legendary actor’s own unintentionally estranged son, a painfully adorable child who forms a bond with Takata — just when restraint is most necessary. Yimou’s sincerity can’t be denied, but it also shouldn’t shame an audience against rejecting this calculated appeal to tears.