The Road Home

Although its release date is after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Road Home was actually finished prior to the first film. This was Zhang Ziyi's first film, and it is a good one both for her and for director Zhang Yimou (Not One Less, Keep Cool). It won the audience award at the 2001 Sundance film festival and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Berlin International Film Festival, and its easy to see why. The Road Home is a simple, elegantly told story about absolute love and devotion. It is a touching and moving experience, a nearly guaranteed crowd pleaser. This is Yimou's second movie in a row about Chinese small-town teachers, but unlike Not One Less, the tone is considerably lighter, almost reverential at times.

Most of The Road Home is a flashback. In the present, Luo Yusheng (Sun Honglei) returns Sanhetun, the village of his birth. Like many small towns, all the people leave for better jobs in the city. The only people remaining in the town are the elderly and young children. His mother (Zhao Yuelin) wants a traditional burial for Luo's father, which means that people will carry his body back to the town for burial. The main problem is that Luo's father died in another town, and it will take men and money to move the body back. The time factor is also considerable, since Luo's mother insists that they follow tradition and walk his body home. She also wants to weave a funeral shroud using an old rickety loom. In an interesting use of color, Yimou films the present in black and white, and the flashback in color. Once Luo begins reminiscing on how his father and mother first met, vibrant colors and San Bao's (Not One Less, The Divorce) haunting score fill the screen.

Luo's mother is Zhao Di (Ziyi), the prettiest (and unmarried) girl in Sanhetun. Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao) is the new teacher assigned to teach. He is from the city, and it is love at first sight for Di. When she hears his voice, leading the local children in their exercises, it only cements her love for him. The manner in which she goes about trying to win him is so persistent, that in any other movie she would be a stalker. But her character is so sweet and innocent that her actions come across as heartwarming. She listens to his voice everyday outside the schoolhouse, follows him around, and watches him from afar. When the finally meet, he reciprocates his feelings towards her. Still, this is China in an earlier time, and men come to take Luo away for questioning. This is the only dark undercurrent in Bai Shi's (Reincarnation, Fantasyland) adaptation of his novel Remembrance. Luo left for political reasons which Shi and Yimou leave unexplained. This separation nearly break's Zhao's heart.

Their relationship is refreshing because it is so innocent. It moves slowly, so that Zhao and Luo can learn about each other. In any other movie, they would consummate their relationship and move on. Yimou takes the time to delve deeply into the characters of both. Ziyi is the true star of The Road Home. Her face is the only thing on screen for what feels like one-third of the movie, smiling and looking wistfully at Luo. She has a beautiful smile and enough charisma to ensure that so many shots of just her do not get boring. The film's most emotion moments come at the end, when the story moves back to the present to resolve the initial story. On a final note, it's amusing to see how pervasive American culture is; the elderly Zhao Di has two Titanic posters in her bedroom.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Mandarin with English subtitles, Rated G.

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