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Original Title:
Wo de fu qin mu qin

China 1999

Romance, Drama

Zhang Yimou

Zhang Ziyi
Zhao Yuelin
Zheng Hao
Sun Honglei
Li Bin
Chang Guifa
Sung Wencheng
Liu Qi
Ji Bo
Zhang Zhongxi

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The Road Home

Story: After years, Luo Yusheng (Sun Honglei) returns to the village he grew up in. The occassion isn't a happy one. Luo's father died when being caught in a snow storm. In order to bring his father's body back from the town to the village so that he can get a proper funeral there, Luo first has to talk to his mother (Zhao Yuelin) about this. As it is, Luo's mother persists that the body doesn't get returned by car, but that it gets carried by man. This is an old traditional ritual and the love of Luo's mother towards her deceased husband is so deep, that she isn't willing to be persuaded by anyone to do without this ritual.
Luo remembers the story, how his mother Zhao Di (Zhang Ziyi) met his father back in the 50s. The village in which Zhao Di grew up in is a very simple one. The people live peacefully from one day to the next and parents decided about their children's marriage. Only the beauty of the village, Zhao Di, takes the liberty to fall in love with a teacher, Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao), who was sent to give lesson at the newly build school in the village. However, for political reasons Changyu is called back to town and so Zhao Di and he couldn't see each other for years. Still, Zhao Di's love only grew stronger and stronger during those years.

Review: "The Road Home" is an unsophisticated love story told in wonderful pictures and with an incredible amount of sincerity. Simple and breathtaking at the same time, these are the words that come to mind when thinking about this movie. Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern", "Hero") creates an extremely touching romantic movie, which magic isn't easy to describe with words. Most filmmakers tell a oldfashioned love story in a somewhat cheesy way, and only a few others are trying hard to avoid this, and instead focus on creating a piece of art, that instantly earns a spot in our hearts because of its genuineness and intensity. Zhang Yimou is one of those few latter people. What awaits us here is a dreamy and wonderful romantic movie.

Thanks to China's current number 1 actress Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon", "Hero"), "The Road Home" fortunately gets a little bit more attention than before, even though a little bit late. In fact, apart from a TV-appearance, this film marks the debut of Zhang Ziyi, who is playing a simple girl with so much naturalness, that we completely forget about her newer roles of the cold, but quarrelsome character she always ends up playing. Here, we get to see her true acting talent.
With a smile to break the heart of every man and pigtails that make her look cute as a button, she follows her beloved whereever he goes. She is a very pure girl, drawing her water at a different well than she used to just to hear the teacher's voice from the school builiding, or waits for hours for Changyu at the road side to follow him home. She also cooks like a madman for the teacher and tries to attract his attention without being too intrusive.

Interestingly enough the story is only told from Zhao Di's perspective which leads to the fact that Changyu's character remains rather shallow most of the time. But the way Zhao romanticizes about his voice, or the few times there is eye contact between the two are intense enough for the love story always to remain very credible. It's a sentimental, touching and heartrending story, that doesn't feel contrived even for a second. In the end it is the plot's sincerity which makes this romatic movie work out so well.
As a framework for the story we have the death of the father of Luo Yushen, who thereupon visits his mother, aged Zhao Di, and serving as a narrator introduces us to her story via flashbacks. Yusheng is drawn rather shallow, but as he is merely the narrator this isn't that much of a flaw and in fact even bestows a certain kind of neutrality upon him.
What's a little bit annoying, however, is that the film has two narrative strands. First, we have the story in the present and then we have the love story of the past. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this way the drama part of the story has more impact, even though it's most likely that you won't feel like crying out of sadness, but instead get a heartwarming feeling and maybe some tears of happiness, because of the dreamlike romance depicted here.

Even though Zhang keeps the film's story simple, which is based on Bao Shi's novel "Remembrance", there is still much to discover. It's not without a reason that the present is drawn in black and white pictures, while the past has the whole color palette of a golden autumn day. Zhang wants to criticize the heartlessness of the society of these days, China's change, the renouncing of the family and the embracing of the easy money that can be made in town. And sometimes the director also does this in form of some small side blows. Just watch out for the "Titanic" poster at Zhao Di's home.
Of course there is also some criticism on the political turbulent times of the 50s, even though Zhang is surprisingly low in tone. Why Changyu has to go back to town is pretty obvious. He is under investigation of a political committee. Still, there are only few Mao pictures or political slogans to be found in the village, which stresses even more the fact how unaffected the small village actually is. However, just not completely unaffected, of course...
Moreover, the director also points out that there was nearly no education because of polital agendas, and that it's not very different nowadays, even though this is more out of financial reasons today and only affects the villages.

This is all revealed on a side note and never distracts from the touching love story. There is always a certain nostalgia and romantic feeling resonating and that's also what makes this film so engaging and warm. Hou Yong's cinematography is grandious and very refined. Golden fields and leaves enchant the village, and along with the warm sunlight drenches it in cosy colors. Together with the appealing and heartrending score by San Bao the pictures take us into a world of simple villagers, who are just living the way they know it, without being affected by the problems or the confusion of political change. There is only little that changes in this village and we find out that this is a good thing.
Director Zhang takes his time to tell his story, but that's not bad at all. On the contrary, there are even some very impressive meditative scenes, for instance the one in which a craftsman repairs a broken bowl. Without using any kind of glue! These are just the kind of little scenes that make a movie special.

"The Road Home" is told in poetic and wonderful pictures. Despite or even because of its simplicity this dreamy and heartwarming piece of art can be really touching, yes, many viewers will even shed a tear or two. But it's tears that are accompanied by a smile...
Zhang Ziyi proves her acting diversity and almost carries the weight of the whole movie on her shoulders. Director Zhang Yimou shows us once again why he is one of the big names of Chinese cinema and enchants us with his great visuals, so that in the end we even wish we could stay at the village for just a little bit longer.
"The Road Home" surely is one of the most moving films from China of the last few years. It will appeal to young and old, and those who haven't seen this movie yet really should do so now.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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