Tuesday, August 21, 2007

THE ROAD HOME (Wo de fu qin mu qin) (1999)
DIRECTED BY: Zhang Yimou
STARRING: Ziyi Zhang
(in chinese w/ English subtitles)

I first saw this film in 2004, when I was eight months pregnant w/ my 2nd son. My father had recommended it to me based on the credentials of its great director, Zhang Yimou. He is the amazing man that brought us the visually stunning films 'Hero', 'House of Flying Daggers', and 'Raise the Red Lantern' as well as the gut-wrenching realism of 'To Live'. However, 'The Road Home' is an entirely different type of film and after watching it one time, it became one of my favorite movies. I was a blubbering mess by the final scene but it was one of those happy cry-sessions, where you end up feeling satisfied and pleased with humanity.

The simple story begins w/ a young businessman from the city traveling back to the village of his birth for his father's funeral. Upon his arrival, he finds that his devastated mother is painstakingly trying to observe traditonal burial customs for her husband, despite the changing times. One of these customs involves literally carrying his body back to the village in the dead of winter and as the dutiful son works out the problems of this daunting task, he reflects on the beautiful way in which his parents met and fell in love.

The luminously beautiful Ziyi Zhang (of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, and Rush Hour 2) plays the widow as a young girl. She has developed a crush on the new school teacher and like some sort of flitting nymph, she darts about the countryside trying to catch his eye as he walks to and from the schoolhouse. Along the way the girl, Zhao Di by name, endearingly attempts to set up precious encounters so they will chance upon a 'meeting'. Since arranged marriages were customary at that time, her attempts are considered very bold and meet with the villagers' dissaproval. However, eventually they do come to know each other and a sweet, almost wordless relationship develops between them that is extraordinarily effective in its simplicity. Over the months, you begin to see how connected the two young people are ,despite the fact that they never touch, and become equally convinced that NOTHING is going to keep them apart. When circumstances cause the young man, Luo, to leave the village temporarily, we feel Zhao Di's devestation most heartily. And as the obstacles continue we see that this is not just a love story, but a beautiful tableau of loyalty from which we can all benefit.

Most of the film is told in flashback and showcases gorgeous fall colors and brilliant scenery. The opening and closing sequences reflect the sadness of the occasion and the stark blue tones of winter so that when these flashbacks begin, we almost breathe a sigh of relief. Yimou is a master w/ visuals but his success in this film does not rely on the artistic overtones and brilliant colors of his flashier projects and instead on the fresh performances of his actors and the simple loveliness of his story. Don't get me wrong, the gorgeous hues of nature are used to their best advantage in this movie but without the freshness of the actors and the warmth of the simple story, it would never work. The final scene is absolutely one of the most moving things I've seen and I mean that in a good way-as a mother and a beloved wife.

The acting is very effective as in all of Yimou's movies. Ziyi Zhang is breathtakingly beautiful but her face is scrubbed youthfully bare for this movie so that we can feel the naievity and innocence of her character. Her athleticism also comes through, in a far more basic way, as she runs around for MOST of the movie in childish determination.

For those who love innocent and pure love stories, I strongly recommend that you see this movie! It's nothing less than a modern classic and not only should it be viewed more than once, but in my opinion the dvd should be framed and placed in a strategic spot on your wall as a reminder that sweetness and decency still lives in the minds of men.

My rating: 10/10