is the sort of tradition that has not been practiced since the Cultural
Revolution, but Zhao Di is dead set on conveying her husband Luo Changyu’s body
back to their village in an old fashioned, pallbearing procession. She and Luo must
have had a rough go of it during Mao’s 1960’s insanity, but it was the
Anti-Rightist Movement of the 1950s that nearly derailed their gentle courtship.
The couple’s grown son tells their story in Zhang Yimou’s contemporary classic The Road Home (trailer here), which is the
subject of this week’s Chinese Film Short Course lecture at the China Institute
in New York.
Yusheng rarely returns to his parents’ snowy provincial village. He studied to
become a teacher like his father, but found success in business instead. When
his father arrived to become the village’s first teacher, it was a big deal,
but first he had to preside over the construction of the one room school house.
Zhao would lovingly prepare her share of the meals for the construction team,
never knowing if Luo would be the one to eat them.
course, she had caught his eye as well. He was also duly impressed by the
quality of the ceremonial Lucky Red Banner she weaved for the school’s central
beam. Yet, they only started to understand the reciprocity of their feelings on
the night Zhao and her grandmother finally had their turn hosting Luo for
dinner. Sadly, Luo would be summoned back to the city the next day to answer
some “political questions.” Viewers should know better than young Zhao the broad
strokes of what that was to entail.
Road Home is a G-rated
romance (literally, per the MPAA), interrupted by episodes of ideologically
driven violence that would be R-rated or worse if they happened on camera. It
is a deceptively simple story that expresses deep feelings, while functioning
as an intimate microcosm of Twentieth Century Chinese history. Indeed, it makes
a perfect companion film to Zhang’s thematically related but even more tragic Coming Home.
all aesthetic standards, Road Home should
be considered an understated artistic triumph, but it is also significant as
the cinematic debuts of both Zhang Ziyi and Sun Honglei. The teenaged Zhang
looks arrestingly youthful and innocent, but she also has the goods, anchoring
the film with the forcefulness of her ardor and yearning. Zheng Hao is also
quite effective, considering most of his work is done through glances exchanged
across open fields. However, like Zhang, you can tell Sun Honglei has the spark
of something in his scenes as the urbanized son.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, Road Home’s flashback scenes are in
color, while the framing sequences are in black-and-white. However, it rather
makes sense given the importance of a certain red dress Zhao wears at key
moments. Both Zhang Ziyi and cinematography Yong Hou do it justice. This is a
great film that should provide plenty for the China Institute’s lecturer to discuss,
but the core human drama will be accessible to any viewer. Highly recommended, The Road Home is currently available on
iTunes and will be the lecture topic at the Institute this Wednesday (5/18).
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Sun Honglei, Zhang Yimou, Zhang Ziyi