×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Road Home

(Mandarin dialogue)

With:
Zhao Di, Young ..... Zhang Ziyi Luo Yusheng ..... Sun Honglei Luo Changyu ..... Zheng Hao Zhao Di, Old ..... Zhao Yuelin Grandmother ..... Li Bin Mayor, Old ..... Chang Guifa Mayor ..... Sung Wencheng Carpenter Xia, Old ..... Liu Qi Carpenter Xia ..... Ji Bo Crockery Repairman ..... Zhang Zhongxi

(Mandarin dialogue)

A boldly conceived movie in which emotional texture is paramount, mainland Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou’s “The Road Home” takes the simplest of stories and weaves a seductive, extremely moving portrait of a young woman’s unshakable love. Picture is very different in look and tone from Zhang’s previous works but seems likely to do solid niche business internationally and maybe extend his following into wider arenas.

Following “Not One Less” (shot immediately before the current item), “Road” reps a strong double comeback for Zhang after considerable negative publicity about both works before the 1999 Cannes fest. When “Less” was offered a slot in Un Certain Regard and “Road” rejected outright, Zhang publicly “withdrew”both pics, with the former going on to win top prize at the Venice fest and garner good reviews. (Pic goes out Stateside through Sony Classics this month.) Initial reaction at Berlin to “Road,” which opened in China last fall, was very warm.

Among mainland movies, one has to think back to Sun Zhou’s mid-’90s “Heartstrings” for a pic of such emotional clout from such potentially flimsy material. At its simplest level, “Road” is a son’s remembrance of the story of his parents’ courtship during the late ’50s in a small village in Hebei province. On deeper levels, pic deals with such unfashionable subjects as the permanence of memories, imperturbable faith and the need to retain older values in today’s aggressively market-driven China.

It’s no accident that the opening and closing, set in the present, are shot in grim, unfriendly black-and-white, as businessman Luo Yusheng (Sun Honglei) returns to his native village of Sanhetun after the sudden death of his father. Luo’s aged mother, Zhao Di (Zhao Yuelin), rebuffs his suggestion that the coffin should be brought home from the hospital by tractor, and insists that they follow the age-old custom of having it carried by local men and that she herself weave the funeral cloth.

As Luo recalls in voiceover the famous story of his parents’ love affair, pic morphs into color and back into an initially unspecified period, with the 18 -year-old Zhao Di (newcomer Zhang Ziyi, soon to be seen in Ang Lee’s swordplay costumer “Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon”) falling for the handsome new teacher, Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao), when he arrives to build a school in the tiny, remote burg.

As the males construct the building, Zhao Di joins the other women in cooking them food, patiently waiting for the time when it will be the turn of her and her mother (Li Bin) to host the teacher for a meal at their home. Just when the love story is beginning, Luo Changyu is suddenly ordered to leave, prompting one of the movie’s most magical sequences, in which Zhao Di runs hither and yon with a bowl of his favorite steamed dumplings as she tries to cut him off at the pass.

On paper the story may sound trite. But the accumulated detail in Zhang’s careful mounting (with an entire sequence devoted to repairing a broken bowl, in closeup) and the power of Hou Yong’s widescreen lensing and San Bao’s filigree orchestral score, are such that the movie starts to exert a strong emotional undertow in its second half. After Zhao Di has kept a seemingly endless vigil, Luo Changyu finally returns for one day, on the lam, before going back to “the city” where he’s been ordered to stay. The pair aren’t reunited until two years later.

Notably, Zhang is not concerned with exterior events, despite the fact that the flashback section is set during one of Communist China’s most turbulent and ghastly periods. The reason for Luo Changyu’s sudden departure is never specified, though it’s obviously part of a political purge; and apart from a mild slogan painted on the school wall, the production design is almost completely free of the usual paraphernalia in ’50s stories (banners, slogans, et al.).

Everything is focused on the central love story and, more specifically, Zhao Di, through whose eyes and feelings we observe the strength of the relationship — a strength that plays into the pic’s final section as the funeral procession is arranged in the present day. Luo Changyu himself is little seen and backgrounded even less: We accept Zhao Di’s commitment to the man in her life even though we see only her side of it.

As the young female lead, Zhang’s latest discovery, Zhang Ziyi, is both seriously cute and perfectly cast. In contrast to helmer’s early peasant pics with actress Gong Li, “Road” isn’t a mud-under-the-fingernails sexual meller. Instead, it draws on conventions of mainstream Chinese romances — “poetic narrative,” in the director’s words — but refines them to a high degree of purity that’s almost abstract: Zhao Di has perfect teeth and a flawless complexion, pretty pigtails and natty peasant clothes. When the pic reverts to B&W and the present day, the effect is startling.

As the contempo son, Sun is largely a blank page, his emotions conveyed by voiceover. Both Li, as Zhao Di’s blind, sharp-tongued mother, and Zhao, as the present-day Zhao Di, are excellent. Original Chinese title simply means “My Father and Mother.”

The Road Home

(CHINA)

Production: A Sony Pictures Classics release (in U.S.) of a Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia presentation of a Guangxi Film Studio/Beijing New Picture Distribution Co. production. Produced by Zhao Yu. Executive producer, Zhang Weiping. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Screenplay, Bao Shi, based on his novel "Remembrance."

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Hou Yong; editor, Zhai Ru; music, San Bao; art director, Cao Jiuping; costume designer, Dong Huamiao; sound (Dolby SRD), Wu Lala; assistant director, Xie Dong. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 15, 2000. Running time: 89 MIN.

With: Zhao Di, Young ..... Zhang Ziyi Luo Yusheng ..... Sun Honglei Luo Changyu ..... Zheng Hao Zhao Di, Old ..... Zhao Yuelin Grandmother ..... Li Bin Mayor, Old ..... Chang Guifa Mayor ..... Sung Wencheng Carpenter Xia, Old ..... Liu Qi Carpenter Xia ..... Ji Bo Crockery Repairman ..... Zhang Zhongxi

More Film

  • wanda Movie Metropolis Qingdao

    Why Simon West is Making Movies in China (EXCLUSIVE)

    British director Simon West (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Con Air,” “The Expendables 2”) is set to further into the Middle Kingdom at the helm of his second Chinese action-adventure blockbuster. The Wanda-backed “The Legend Hunters,” hits theaters next summer. West was brought onto the project by veteran producer Eryong, who had approached him about a [...]

  • The Eight Hundred

    History Rethink Group Key to 'Eight Hundred' Shanghai Cancellation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Chinese authorities may have abruptly yanked Huayi Brothers’ $80 million patriotic war epic “The Eight Hundred” the day before its debut as the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival’s opening film because it didn’t portray rivals of the ruling Communist Party in a sufficiently negative light, local reports said. Huayi on Friday attributed the cancellation of its [...]

  • Simon West

    Simon West Directing Chinese Tomb-Raid Movie “Legend Hunters’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    The British director Simon West, who made Angelina Jolie-starring “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” is now co-directing a Chinese tomb-raiding film. “The Legend Hunters” is the next instalment in the “Mojin” universe based on the popular fantasy novel series “Ghost Blows Out the Light.” Backed by Wanda Pictures and Beijing-based Saints Entertainment, the film is set [...]

  • Emu Runner

    Sydney Film Review: 'Emu Runner'

    Writer-director Imogen Thomas’ debut feature “Emu Runner” has and probably will play in designated family-themed strands of film festivals, and given its story of a 9-year-old Aboriginal girl who deals with grief in the wake of her mother’s death by bonding with a lone female representative of Australia’s largest native bird species, this programming strategy [...]

  • Sophia Antipolis

    Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Sophia Antipolis'

    There are two Sophias in French director Virgil Vernier’s clever, cunning, chilling fifth feature. The first is its setting, the eponymous “Sophia Antipolis,” a technology park in the south of France, a place self-consciously designed as an experiment in social engineering, where an international community of professionals would, it was hoped, create an environment of [...]

  • I Lost My Body

    Netflix Pickup ‘I Lost My Body,’ ‘Buñuel,’ ‘Away’ Top Annecy Festival

    ANNECY, France  — Fulfilling expectations, Jeremy Clapin’s “I Lost My Body, the subject of one of the highest-profile Netflix deals at this year’s Cannes, won this Saturday the Annecy Festival’s top Cristal Award of best feature plus, in a relatively rare Annecy double whammy, the festival’s Audience Award. The first was expected, the second a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content