The Road Home
(Wo de fu qin mu qin) (1999)
Directed by Yimou Zhang

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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When Luo Yusheng (Honglei Sun) returns after his father's death to the village where he grew up, in order to arrange that man's funeral, he recalls the story of how his father, Luo Changyu (Hao Zheng), had arrived there forty years earlier to work as the local schoolmaster and how his mother, Zhao Di (Zhang Ziyi), had fallen in love with this newcomer.

Zhang Yimou's The Road Home is such a visually intoxicating and narratively moving film that it is sure to captivate the viewer throughout most of its duration.

The director begins and ends his movie with depictions of Yusheng's visit to the village where he was raised, where he interacts with his bereaved mother and makes arrangements for his father's funeral. These sections are presented entirely in harsh but lovely black and white, which tones somehow tinge the narrative they expose with a sense of both reality and melancholy. The story of the eighteen year old Di's growing love for her future husband, which is set between these portions, is, however, shown in a variety of brilliant colors, which are so lovely that there is hardly a moment when the moviegoer will not be absolutely enthralled by the images there being revealed to him.

This middle portion of the film truly is stunning. At various times, tableaux of golden autumnal forests, or of vast, empty landscapes, or of simple homes ringed with rude wooden fences and adorned with heaps of pumpkins play across the movie screen. Many of these are as gorgeous as are the paintings of any master and transport the viewer into the film's own unique world, the physical charms of which leave him so inebriated that he is likely to find himself trembling with the joyful sorrow such visions conjure up.

The Road Home is not merely beautiful to look at, however. The story the director tells is also well realized. I will grant that the closing moments of the film are somewhat maudlin, but the central part of the narrative, that relating how Di came to love Changyu, is often brilliant. By giving life to the simplest of moments, to such expressive incidents as the heroine's waiting by a roadside to catch a glimpse of the man with whom she is infatuated, or her slipping and breaking a bowl filled with the dumplings she has made for him, or her running merrily across a bridge while drunk with the pleasure of love, the director is able to tell a wonderfully human story suffused with the most poignant of emotions. When presented with such sequences, the viewer cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sweet, painful intensity of the heroine's feelings. Towards the end of her tale, Yimou does indulge in a few excesses, and these do detract from the quality of that narrative, but, be that as it may, the story of Di's love is usually so skillfully done that it is sure to move any sensitive viewer nearly to tears.

Finally, I should note that the film is consistently well acted. Zhang Ziyi, however, really is luminous and invariably outshines everyone around her. Not only does she display considerable talent, being able to convey the deepest emotions with only the slightest gestures or the most subdued expressions, but she is also bewitchingly beautiful. Even though she is throughout the movie dressed in heavy quilted garments that make her body look enormous and force her to waddle like a penguin, the actress's beauty still manages to pervade the screen every time she appears. I cannot begin to compliment her enough.

While I will not claim that The Road Home rises to greatness as a whole, it does have numerous great moments. It is a lovely, touching film.

Review by Keith Allen

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