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The Road Home 

Director Zhang Yimou's latest movie, The Road Home, is a paean to beauty. Specifically, the beauty of love, the Chinese countryside, and actress Zhang Ziyi, though not necessarily in that order. Those adverse to
sentimentality or pretty pictures will want to avoid this one; the rest of us can line up outside the Music Box this Friday for a sumptuous treat.

Zhang Yimou--whose career already includes such landmark works as Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, To Live, and Shanghai Triad--has received some criticism for the apparent turn in his last two films (Not One Less and The Road Home). In contrast to the subtle but powerful anti-authoritarian messages of his earlier films, The Road Home (and, to some degree, Not One Less) provides a decidedly sunnier view of rural life, with an emphasis on simple people and their wishes and desires.

The plot itself is also considerably less intricate than past Zhang films. A middle-aged man returns to his home village to help bury his father, the respected school teacher and devoted husband. As the man and his mother
prepare for the funeral, he recalls how his parents met, "a story that everyone in the town can recite."

His father, Luo Changyu (played by the boyishly good-looking Zheng Hao), was a 20-year-old young man who had grown up in the city but is assigned to the rural village of Sanhetun as its first school teacher. There, he catches the eye of the prettiest girl in the village, Zhao Di (the radiant Zhang Ziyi). Though it's slightly improper, the young woman begins pursuing the flattered teacher: arranging to draw water when he's watching, preparing the food he will eat and, most importantly, casually sitting by the road as he passes each day. The young man soon catches on and even reciprocates the attention, that is until he's recalled back to the city on some mysterious charge. Every day, Zhao Di goes to the road and waits for her beloved to return.

Though we know how the story will end up (the two were married for over 40 years), there's still something powerful in this tale of love delayed. And the film's final scenes, of the long funeral march down that very road, is a wonderful testimony to the respect and affection one can earn through life.

Zhang Yimou has mentioned his admiration for Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami; and the opening moment in The Road Home, a point-of-view shot from inside a car as it drives down a winding mountain road, is a wonderful homage. But other than that and the naturalistic performances from some of the non-professional actors, the movie shares little in common with Kiarostami's films.

Instead, Zhang Yimou's trademark color compositions are on full display. Though the countryside leads to somewhat muter tones, Zhang's use of yellows, greens, whites, and pinks are perfectly complemented by Hou Yong's stunning widescreen cinematography. It's no exaggeration to say that some of the shots of the road winding through the rural mountains are breathtaking. And Zhang's obsession with clothing his leading ladies in red is again used to considerable effect.

Zhang Ziyi, who made such a spectacular American debut in Crouching Tiger, revolve around close-ups of her face as she either looks for her future husband or awaits his return. Those not as enamored of her beauty might find these recurrent moments dull and tedious. The rest of us will just sigh deeply and enjoy the view.  

J. Robert Parks 7/16/2001


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