Zhang Zhehan First Directorial Documentary “August” Review & Notes

In “August,” Chinese actor-singer Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚) takes viewers on a personal journey of self-discovery in his directorial debut. He cycles for almost 20 days through the stunning landscapes of Tibet, where he meets fascinating people and reflects on life’s challenges.

Zhang narrates the story himself telling why he chose the title “August”. The significance this month holds in his life. From his acceptance to the Shanghai Theater Academy at 17 in August to the abrupt end of his acting career in August 2021 due to a media cyberstorm. Insead to wallowing in distress, he explains in the film how he chose to confront challenges head on and gathered the strength to move on again.

Simply, August is like a month of bittersweet goodbyes and also a hopeful beginnings for him.

  • Episode: 1
  • Genre: Life, Documentary, Culture, Nature, Travelling
  • Director: Zhang Zhe Han
  • Country: China
  • Release Date: April 14, 2024.
Zhang Zhehan's documentary August Review
Zhang Zhehan’s August

Some Notes from August:

In August 2022, after two days of battling altitude sickness and strong winds, he finally reached the summit of Haba Snow Mountain in Yunnan, 5,396 meters above sea level.

Music is his soul, freedom, peace, and everything. When he was going through the darkest period of his life, music became a source of inspiration and a good friend. Surprisingly, it all started when he started learning Guitar. It not only pulled him out of that darkness but also healed and showed him a new direction and hope.

Zhang Zhehan's documentary August Review
the summit of Haba Snow Mountain in Yunnan (first pic)

Zhang Zhehan has always loved cycling. In June 2012, after graduating from university, he rode for nearly 30 days and crossed the Sichuan Tibet, a distance of more than 2,000 kilometers. His cycling then was full of youthful adventure.

In 2018 and 2019, his cycling adventures were all about exploring new places in Taiwan and southern France, driven by his wanderlust. Somehow, his ride journey became more personal, focused on inner peace and growth in 2022 & 2023.

Cultural Explorations & Natural Landscapes in Tibet

In August 2023, Zhang began his nearly twenty-day cycling odyssey on the Yunnan-Tibet Highway. He took a less common route starting from Xianggelila (Shangri-La) in Yunnan Province. His journey then followed a northward path towards the Qiunatong scenic area, then continued to Renlongba Glacier, Ranwu Lake, Laigu Glacier, Medog County, Tongmai, and finally reaching Lhasa.

to be honest, this was my first time watching someone’s adventurous journey on a cycle for such a long time. The journey was not without difficulties but still with Zhang and his team’s continuous effort on the line, everything portrayed on the screen was heartwarming and beautiful.

Zhang Zhehan's documentary August Review
Tongmai, Sichuan Xizang Highway

While watching it, it gives me a vibe that I was learning something new as well as exploring Tibet myself without having to leave my room.  

Viewers are presented with multiple ordinary people along the way. Even if the conversations with those individuals were short and concise, the director was able to convery a deep message effectively. For example, having a dream is a beautiful thing. It will help you grow, survive, and live for it. You can see this in the singer dedicating his life to music in Shangri-La, Yunnan.

Similarly, having a goal is helpful because as long as you keep moving forward towards it, you’ll achieve it one day. This was evident in the cyclists on the road who were all headed towards their destinations. Hope and wishes hold sweetness and beauty too. Like the two young brothers from a tiny village with a dream of entering the bigger city one day in Qiunatong. Destiny is unpredictable, after all; strangers may become someone close to you or viceversa, you never know. You can see this in the couple whose love blossomed on a cycling journey.

Finally, your work and passion don’t need to be grand; they just need to make you happy and content. You could feel her excitement and happiness as she told her story about running a business in Tibet for more than a decade to support her family in Tongmai.

Zhang Zhehan's documentary August Review
scenery from Qiunatong

The beauty of Tibet is vividly presented through these individuals, their surroundings, and Director Zhang’s kind, gentle, and humble interaction with them.

In the eyes of Director Zhang, Tibet is multifaceted: a holy paradise, bustling alleys, and a bathhouse that cleanses the soul. These encounters with ordinary people remind him that the real world is far from the negativity he sees online; it’s filled with beauty, warmth, and human touch.

The Inspiring Message of “August”

Through ‘August’ Zhang Zhehan clearly says chasing dreams is an incredible journey. But it’s rarely smooth sailing! like, there will be bumps along the road. Some smaller, some bigger, & sometimes even completely unexpected.

For the first time, Zhang doubts the certainty of achieving goals through hard work after the 2021 incident. He questions, “Is it really true that if one works hard, they’ll achieve their goals?” Not sure but he believes that as long as he keeps paddling, cycling will definitely help him reach his destinations. And this is why, he loves cycling. He also strongly suggests that even if goals aren’t guaranteed, moving forward is still worthwhile.

The road ahead might be tiring. But as long as we keep trying our best everything will be alright. No matter how unfair or prejudiced this world might be at a time, one should never lose their true charm or essence. So, keep pursuing your light!

Zhang Zhehan's documentary August Review
Zhang Zhehan in the documentary

As a viewer, I think it’s a perfect way to inspire and tell other individuals; that despite adversities, one can still bloom and thrive. Also, he acknowledges not every journey in our life is supposed to have a happy/perfect ending. But still, it’s worth it. Those experiences teach us many valuable lessons and shape who we become.

I would say, the best part of this documentary is Zhang Zhehan’s skill in narrating the story. It was calm and soothing accompanied by picturesque scenery. Additionally, all the drone views of snow-capped mountains, glaciers, rivers, and green grasslands were too beautiful. I loved how Zhang interacted with each person along the way; and listened their life story.

What’s Missing in “August”

While Zhang Zhehan mentions the personal controversy he faced in 2021 and its impact on his life, the film doesn’t provide further details or explanations about it. Even though it’s not the primary focus of the documentary, this might leave curious viewers, especially those unfamiliar with him or watching this film of him for the first time, without a clear understanding of the event, including the documentary’s deeper meaning for him.

My Verdict – It’s Good

The documentary is about Zhang Zhehan’s healing journey, the source of his inspiration, happiness, and fulfillment he finds in his passion, memories, and beautiful nature including many people around him. While it might not be the most groundbreaking documentary, it’s engaging and good pick for someone who loves nature, uplifting stories, and a glimpse into diverse cultures and landscapes. However, if viewers aren’t interested in life documentaries, then this might not be the best choice for them.

I would rate this 8.5 out of 10. Given the fact that this was Zhang Zhehan’s first foray into the direction, it was really good, especially the cinematography. Even if he is no longer working as an actor, viewers/fans can watch/enjoy his craftsmanship in these projects or his music.

If you’re wondering where to watch ‘August’, you can watch it on Youtube.

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