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The Road Home
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"Don't let the pink fool you; I could still kick your ass!"

Zhang Ziyi in Zhang Yimou's The Road Home.
Chinese: 我的父親母親  
Year: 2000  
Director: Zhang Yimou  
  Producer: Zhang Weiping
  Cast: Zhang Ziyi, Sun Hong-Lei, Zheng Hao, Zhao Yulian, Li Bin, Chang Guifa, Sing Wencheng, Liu Qi, Ji Bo, Zhang Zhongxi
  The Skinny: From acclaimed director Zhang Yimou comes this touching film about young love in rural China. Refreshingly unpretentious, the movie looks amazing and boasts fine performances from its cast of relative unknowns. Chinese "It Girl" Zhang Ziyi is her usual wonderful self.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

I knew that Zhang Ziyi was beautiful. And I knew she was talented; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon provided ample evidence of that. But what I wasn't quite prepared for was how absolutely captivating she would be in The Road Home, a simple, old-fashioned love story from Hero director Zhang Yimou. For every single second that she appeared onscreen, I couldn't help but be enchanted by her presence. There was something so extraordinarily pure and wholly intriguing about her that I couldn't quite put my finger on. But whatever it is, she's got it and it works. However, even though Zhang is unquestionably talented, I suspect that her magnetic performance in The Road Home is not simply the product of fortuitous casting. No, director extraordinaire Zhang Yimou knows what he's doing, and one can see a master storyteller at work from the film's very first frame.

Based on the novel Remembrance by Shi Bao (who also wrote the screenplay), The Road Home begins and ends its tale in the present day. But, in a nice reversal of standard movie language, the modern sequences are shot in dreary black and white rather than in the usual color. In the first of many moments that will echo the film's title, a young businessman named Luo Yusheng (Sun Honglei) heads back home to the tiny village of Sanhetun. It seems that Yusheng's father Luo Changyu, a beloved schoolteacher, has passed away while trying to raise money to construct a new schoolhouse. In Sanhetun, Luo finds his mother, Zhao Di (Zhao Yulian), mourning at the school. In accordance with an old Chinese tradition, Di insists that her husband's body be brought back home from the hospital on foot. At the mayor's behest, Yusheng tries to dissuade his mother from this arduous request, but when the prodigal son begins to reflect on his parents' courtship all those years ago, he experiences a welcome change of heart.

But before that epiphany occurs, the film flashes back to a time when Di (now played by Zhang Ziyi) and Chengyu (Zheng Hao) first met. In true Wizard of Oz fashion, the color palette suddenly bursts alive with brilliant greens, deep reds, and shimmering golds as we are transported to this earlier, otherworldly time period. Within this beautiful dreamscape, the couple's straightforward romance unfolds, as the twenty-year-old Chengyu, the town's new schoolteacher, meets Di, the prettiest girl in the village. Immediately, a surprisingly chaste courtship blossoms between the two, leading to a poignant final act set in the present day. By story's end, the importance of the "road home" becomes clear and a splash of much-deserved color from the past brightens the darkness of the modern era.

This color-coded framing device proves to be an effective storytelling tool for Zhang Yimou. For one, the color scheme is appropriate in that the drab grays of the framing sequences echo the death and dreariness that permeate those portions of the film, whereas the beautiful colors and lush backgrounds of the middle section reflect the vibrant energy of the young lovers in the past. Zhang Ziyi's luminous performance becomes even more amazing, since the explosion of color accompanies her arrival into the narrative, providing a welcome antidote to the gloominess of the first act.

Though director Zhang Yimou's previous films have been banned innumerable times by the Chinese government, The Road Home does not contain any "questionable" politics. Though the scholar Changyu faces questioning for political reasons, the ramifications of his disappearance are never addressed. What might be a major plot point in another film is simply a fact of life in this one; it's just another obstacle for Zhao Di to overcome, and not a political statement. Still, the color red does permeate the film, from Zhao Di's jacket to the banner she weaves to the beautiful barrette Changyu gives her as a present. But red has connotations for the Chinese people beyond Communism, so to read the film as an allegory for the Cultural Revolution would be a bit of a stretch. In fact, such a reading sabotages the inherent lyrical simplicity of the film. The movie is what it is, nothing more, nothing less.

On a personal note, The Road Home was a revelation of sorts for me. Unlike many of the films reviewed on, there are no guns, no ghosts, no kicks, no death-defying stunts. It's just a magical little tale of young love that somehow transforms you. It makes you discard your cynicism (if only for the time you're watching it), and turns you into a wide-eyed believer. I mean, if even a fraction of the love shown in Zhang Ziyi's face exists in the real world, then life truly is worth living. No special effects, no auteur posturing, no postmodernist twists—The Road Home is just a beautiful little movie. (Calvin McMillin, 2003)


2000 Berlin International Film Festival
Ecumenical Jury Prize
Silver Berlin Bear
2001 Sundance Film Festival
Audience Award (World Cinema)

Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin and French Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Spanish subtitles

image courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen