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Lu and Feng are a devoted couple forced to separate when Lu is arrested and sent to a labor camp as a political prisoner during the Cultural Revolution. He finally returns home only to find that his beloved wife no longer recognizes him.
When a leprous winery owner in 1930s China dies a few days after his arranged marriage, his young widow is forced to run the winery to make a living while contending with bandits, her drunkard lover, and the invading Japanese army.
City businessman Luo Yusheng returns to his home village in North China for the funeral of his father, the village teacher. He finds his elderly mother insisting that all the traditional burial customs be observed, despite the fact that times have changed so much, and that it involves many people carrying his father's body back to the village - the road home. As Yusheng debates the complications involved in organising such a big feat, he remembers the magical story of how his father and mother first met and got together.Written by
Sujit R. Varma
The original Chinese title of this film is simply "My Father and Mother" (Wo De Fuqin He Muqin). It is ironic the English title "The Road Home" seems more to the point.
To me, this movie is about the Home and the Road leading to the Home. That Home is Zhao Di's love to the village teacher. He is her destiny and eternity. The Road to Home is the road we see Di runs, walks, stalks and waits, a road that gives Di at times unbound joy of love and hope, but also trepidation, anxiety and deep sorrow, a road that witnesses Di's unfailing faith and determination.
Speaking of the road, most foreigners may not notice the peculiar way in which Zhao Di (Zhang Ziyi) runs or walks, and she runs a lot in the film. This is not the way Zhang Ziyi would run when she is not playing the role (remember the agile and elegant Zhang Ziyi in Hidden Dragon and Crouching Tiger?), but it is the very familiar way countryside girl/women in China run, especially those in northern and colder parts of China.
Playing a Chinese peasant girl is a particular study, Zhang Ziyi may have failed in subtleties here and there, but her run and walk are succeeding convincingly. When Di finally first meets face to face with her lover on the road, she quickly walks away, and that walk by Zhang Ziyi is the quintessential Chinese peasant girl's walk when under public attention or embarrassment a priceless walk.
There is an unspoken but important undercurrent in Di's relationship to her lover - she is a peasant girl but he is a town "citizen". In those days of China (1957), and still to certain degree even today, they practically belong to different classes. Di's blind but all-knowing mother once alludes Di of that to discourage Di of her love dream.
Di is illiterate, as most girls of her days are, but he is educated. This difference traditionally also amounts to a class distinction. Di clearly has a reverence and a fascination with literacy, something she and her village never have. She adores his literary voice in teaching and listens to it all the time. He hardly talks and when talking speaks little and in low voice, but through Di ears, we hear her lover's literary voice loud and clear and plenty. His literary voice and the newly built village school represent a new dimension and horizon for her, something that awakes her and draws her.
Di is a peasant girl. Girls in countryside those days don't even date, leave alone active seeking out men. Di's "freedom" love affair is way ahead of her villagers and of her time. But he is her destiny, her Home, thus ensues the saga of an extraordinary Road to Home. Di has to run, run to express and release her unbound joy of love, run to see and in presence of her lover, run to battle with the unsurmountable taboo, run to avoid facing up her class deficiencies, run to delay the inevitable encounter
But Di otherwise stays close to her basics: the vast mother earth and landscape, the changing color and hue as the sun moves, the winding dirt road, the crops, the trees, the water from the well, the loom, the cloth, the huge adobe oven, the kitchen filled with warmth of bellowing steam and rays of sun shine, the food, many kinds of food, and that big white ceramic bowl with blue flower pattern. These are Di's elements.
The story happens in the politically fateful year of 1957 when Mao launches his anti-rightist movement that causes many great suffering. Di's lover is also implicated. Such an eventful turn of fortune can be a ready drama to be played out with great effects, but instead, we only hear the village mayor saying: "these things are city folk's affair that we won't be able to understand". And of course, the poor Di has to wait a few more years before finally unites her lover.
It should be no surprise that the unfailing Zhang Yimou is again at his mastery, turning a simple and almost cliché story into such a deeply touching and moving film. What is surprising is the great performance by Zhang Ziyi, considering the fact that this is her film debut. Of course, Yimou's camera and directorship helps, lucky Ziyi.
Sadly though, this film, like many other of Zhang Yimou's, is not well received in China. The quietness, the lack of dialog, the meticulous nuance in subtlety and the full blown saturation of colors seem to have counter effect with many Chinese audience. There has been consistent complaint by audience in China that Zhang's films are made catering to foreigners' taste and curiosity. It doesn't help either that Zhang's films are always popular oversea, while many excellent domestic films by Chinese taste get no foreign recognition.
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