Projections - Movie Reviews

The Road Home

The Road Home

The Road Home shows director Zhang Yimou using a minimalist approach to great effect as much emotion comes in a small, but romantic package in 1958 China.  It is the noteworthy debut of actress Zhang Ziyi who was seen previously by many more film goers in the cross-over martial-arts epic love story, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Ziyi, who'll get more exposure later this summer with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 2, is as indelible as the rich photography from Hou Young in a heartfelt love story where no touching or kissing occurs.  Her character, the young Zhao Di, is in the meaty portion of this flashback fable framed by monochromatic segments in today's China.

The striking visual contrast helps to establish a mood that gives this slight movie a dramatic boost as it illuminates the notion of tradition in two different eras.  It could be considered as a companion piece to Yimou's previous film, Not One Less, which also positioned the role of a school teacher with much prominence.  The Road Home is even more touching than Less which gave the viewer reason to admire Yimou's concern for rural China and the importance of reaching a missing pupil.

The story of an unusual courtship is preceded by a son's return to a small village in northern China where his suddenly deceased father had been an instructor at an unspecified schoolhouse.  Sun Honglei is more persuasive in his voice-overs as businessman Luo Yusheng who wants the coffin brought home by tractor.  His logical idea is rebuffed by his aging mother Zhao Di (Zhao Yuelin) who wants customs to be observed, meaning that, in the middle of winter, hand-picked men are to carry the coffin from the distant hospital to a final resting place panning over the schoolhouse.

As the detached Yusheng acknowledges his mother's fairly demanding wishes, The Road Home returns to the late teen years of Di as her elder self weaves a funeral cloth on the hamlet's loom.  In non-linear fashion, Yimou similarly weaves a touching and sensual portrayal of unremitting love.

The central story depicts Ziyi's nicely clothed peasant Di who is smitten with the entrance of the young schoolteacher, Zheng Hao's Changyu, into the village.  Against the feelings of her blind mother (Li Bin), Di openly sets her sights on him in an era when provinces followed the custom of arranged marriages.

The modest, yet focused Di conjures an "accident" on the road with Changyu in order to use her cooking skills to reach his heart when Di and her mother can host the new school construction laborer for dinner.

Things go well until the effect of China's Cultural Revolution is felt with Changyu remanded to "the city" to meet an unexplained demand.  The determined Di walks through blizzard conditions after he fails to come back, but finally he illegally heads back to see his afflicted beloved.

The ending has an emotional undertow from a unique relationship that has a lot to say about the adulation of love and an occupation which is often taken for granted.  It surprises in how dramatically it uses traditions and trusted mores as Yimou doesn't let the pervasive notion of communism encroach into a loving tribute to the unshakable faith that exist within the memorable times of our lives.

Ziyi is never less than endearing with her presence and cuteness in this "poetic narrative" as she is much different than the feisty princess in Crouching Tiger, but is nearly as wonderful considering that her big action chase scene is filled with a poignant desperation that will go a long way to repairing a broken bowl and heart.

Though a bowl of steamed dumplings wouldn't do much for many Westerners, it's brought forth with a winning realism by Yimou and his gifted young star throughout in a bountiful trip which understands China's place in the modern ways of the marketplace.  The director may have convincingly and noticeably changed from the sweeping dynamism of Raise the Red Lantern  but can't avoid the emotional impact of what the paramount unsinkable memories of Titanic has in the subtle, reflective power of The Road Home.

The Road Home

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