A lonely forest ranger nursing a broken heart and an incredible hangover finds himself the accidental arbiter of truth in Jigme Trinley’s frosty psychological drama, One and Four (一个和四个, yī gè hé sì gè). One and four is what each of these men are, individuals pitted one against the other. The atmosphere is one of danger and mistrust coupled with almost supernatural dread in the constant warning of an approaching blizzard with a ruthless maniac on the loose while it’s true enough that the only neutral party may have been quietly going stir crazy for quite some time aside from his recent troubles. 

Troubles do indeed descend on Sanggye in threes with each of his various visitors only complicating an already dangerous situation. As the film opens he’s clearly hungover, grumpy, and tense, going about his quotidian tasks and chopping wood while apparently out of food resorting to sucking old bread and bones. He writes in his diary that he wishes the events of the previous night had been a dream and introduces a note of mistrust regarding village man Kunbo who visited him Sanggye had assumed to borrow money but may have had a different purpose in mind. He’s later startled by another knock at the door from a wounded man carrying a rifle who claims to be a policeman chasing a dangerous poacher but looks to Sanggye like he could well be the poacher himself. 

Then again, Sanggye isn’t entirely honest with him either telling the man that he has no alcohol because forest rangers aren’t supposed to drink yet we’ve already seen bottles littering the cabin and it seems clear he woke with a hangover. “I didn’t know you why should I tell you the truth” he later tells his guest not unreasonably having concealed Kunbo’s visit the night before but now finding himself dragged into a wider drama involving a high speed crash which seems to have caused the death of at least one policeman with the poacher supposedly on the run. Sanggye looks for clues most particularly in the policeman’s badge number though we might wonder if it’s reasonable to assume someone driving a police car or wearing a jacket with a number on it is necessarily a policeman, or if on the other hand someone carrying a hunter’s rifle in the manner of a poacher must be a poacher. He looks for objective facts occasionally asking for verifiable detail such as the name of the man who runs the forest commission and his place of birth but once both Kunbo and another man also claiming to be a policeman turns up the situation only becomes more confusing.

Did Kunbo set him up, drop by deliberately to upset him so he’d be less likely to catch him committing crimes or is he simply in the middle of a bad situation? Are both these men policemen or neither, could they both be poachers after the same kill with Kunbo caught in the middle or is the whole thing some kind of bizarre cosmic coincidence ironically occurring on the “day for heroes to gather” as it says today to be on Sanggye’s wall calendar. As Sanggye points out, if one of these men is a poacher most likely he’d be dead by now but then maybe he’s only waiting to retrieve his missing hoard of antlers cut from a bemused deer left bleeding in the snow. 

“Preventing forest fires is everyone’s responsibility” according to Sanggye’s mug, though it seems unlikely anyone’s going to be able to stamp out this conflagration very speedily. Aligned with nature, Sanggye first refuses to accept a gun perhaps because he does not trust the man who gives it to him fearing that he intends to lull him into a false sense of security but is eventually forced to wield one in a four-way stand off uncertain who to believe in this increasingly complicated piece of game theory thought experiment. Sanggye probably wishes this had all been a dream too though one supposes he’s reason to believe the bad news he received the previous evening may not be true. In any case another cosmic coincidence eventually makes his decision for him as the clock rounds out the day. Tense, frosty, and full of questioning angles, Jigme Trinley’s well designed forest fable suggests the most dangerous beast in the forest is your fellow man though a deer may repay a kindness if you’re mindful enough to show them one. 

One and Four screened as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Images: © Mani Stone Pictures/Tsemdo

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