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Overall Rating
4.47

Awesome50%
Worth A Look: 46.88%
Average: 3.13%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 14 user ratings


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Road Home, The
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by Collin Souter

"A stunning and beautiful meditation"
5 stars

Some faces have the power to carry an entire movie. I’m not saying that just because Julia Roberts’ face appears on a poster she can make the entire movie watchable regardless of bad writing. No, I just mean that some faces deserve to have long, lingering close-ups because so much can be seen, heard and felt just by watching simple movements of the eyes and lips. Such a face belongs to Zhang Ziyi, the young Chinese actress best known as the young warrior of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Her first film, “The Road Home,” has finally been released here in the states and showcases a completely different kind of role for her. She smiles a lot more, she embraces love instead of running away from it and she has been given very little dialogue. Richard Corliss of Time Magazine described this movie as “A visual love letter to Zhang Ziyi,” but that only begins to describe this film’s beauty.

To drive home the luster of the landscape of a small Chinese farmland in the 1950s, director Zhang Yimou opens the story in a drab, present-day black-and-white (or dark blue, gray and white) to show how the village has deteriorated over the years. Then the movie goes back to the 1950s where it shifts to color and the landscape can be fully appreciated with its glorious fall colors, steep yellow hills and beautiful evening mists.

In the film’s first act, a city businessman, Luo Yusheng, returns home to the village after his father has just died. His mother, Zhao Di, insists on a traditional burial, which would mean carrying the body all the way from the hospital back to the village where she wants him to be buried. This will cost a pretty penny and more man-power than seems to be available. Luo reminisces about his parents’ past where the bulk of the movie takes place.

Here, we see Zhao Di’s experience as an uneducated farm girl living with her blind mother and falling in love at a distance with the new school teacher in town, Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao). The story and its backdrop compliment one another perfectly.
I love when filmmakers wait for a certain time of year to make a movie in order to capture nature at its most extreme. The Coen brothers did it with “Fargo” by waiting for the first big Minnesota snowfall so that their shots of the open roads would have no horizon. “The Road Home” uses its postcard-perfect shots of natural beauty as the backdrop for what will be an unabashedly simple, pure and graceful story of first love.

I’m guessing director Yimou scouted this area many times prior to writing the script and decided that the area looked too good for a dialogue-based movie. Like this year’s “The Man Who Cried,” “The Road Home” takes a silent approach, letting Zhang Ziyi’s longing looks and determination do the storytelling. In fact, I’m also guessing he loved the landscape so much, he opted never to leave it. An interesting choice seeing as how a big chunk of the story takes place off the farm land. Luo Changyu, the school teacher Zhao Di longs for, eventually takes an interest in Zhao Di and wants to be with her as much as she does him. But trouble comes to paradise when authorities in the city demand Luo Changyu come to a tribunal. Aside from talk amongst the townsfolk, we never get the whole story as to why and we never see anything beyond Zhao Di’s perception. A major plot hole? No, just part of the meditation. It didn’t bother me and I never wanted to leave, either.

The story goes from tender to heartbreaking as Zhao Di can do nothing more than wait for Luo Changyu to come back to her. She stands by the long and winding road endlessly waiting for him to come back. She has aural hallucinations of him teaching lessons to the children. She has a barrette he gave to her before he left to give her hope. All of this comes to a thrilling climax that reminds us that films can be used to tell a poem, an idea that has all but vanished in today’s movies. Children’s recitals weave through San Bao’s soaring musical score as the story reaches a moment of triumph, a cinematically poetic high that moved me to tears.

Back in the gray present time Luo Yusheng must try and convince the mayor that Di’s expensive and demanding wish for her husband’s funeral should be granted. The procession should take his body up the same long road traveled so often by these two lovers. If all of the above sounds too simplistic and/or depressing, let me tell you that “The Road Home” has many moments of humor, most of which come as young Zhao Di tries many different ploys to win the attention and heart of Luo Changyu, moments any person who has ever had that wonderfully obsessive feeling in their heart can relate to.

And, true, the movie does stay on the simple side. It does not concern itself with being plot-oriented, nor does it feel the need to explain everything. Earlier in the review, I used the word meditation. This movie should be seen as just that, a meditation on the feeling of falling in love for the first time. This should answer your questions as to why we never leave the village, why Zhang Ziyi has so many close-ups, why we hear so little dialogue and why director Yimou felt the need to place two posters of James Cameron’s “Titanic” in the background of old Zhao Di’s house. She, too, loves the power of romantic movies. Movies can often be at their best when they take a moment in one’s life and just fixate and meditate on it for just a couple hours. Zhao Di, a simple traditionalist, probably saw “Titanic” 20 times and had a blissful 3-hour journey every time.

Most movies these days either take a love story and reduce it to a mere sub-plot (“The Score”) or try too hard to cram it down our collective throats (the icky “Pearl Harbor” and the bombastic “Moulin Rouge” come to mind). “The Road Home” takes the subject of love and presents it in its purest form. These two people exist to be with one another. What an amazing achievement to make a movie about first love where we never see the characters kiss, have sex or fret over anything superfluous. As a result, I cared more about these people than any other character this year. Why? Because, Yimou and his cast allowed me to care about them without distracting me with musical numbers, falling bombs or false pretences. Forget “Moulin Rouge.” This is a story about love.

While the rest of the cast does just fine, the movie clearly belongs to Ziyi (or did I not make that clear enough in my opening paragraph?). Ziyi’s next movie, “Rush Hour 2,” will be released shortly and I’ve been told that the makers of the movie pretty much wasted her. They didn’t even give her a fight scene with Jackie Chan. I am hoping Ziyi and her agent look at it as a bad error in judgment by taking advice from the wrong people. She can barely speak English and she deserves better than to be reduced to just another Asian action star. “Rush Hour 2” will most likely come, go and be completely forgotten. “The Road Home,” as well as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” should be seen as testimonies to Ziyi’s abilities as an accomplished actress who can clearly convey any emotion. She will inspire more than a few verses for any visual poet who gets lucky enough to cast her as their muse. She’s that good and let’s hope nobody forgets that.

As for “The Road Home” itself, I consider it the best movie so far this year.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4387&reviewer=233
originally posted: 07/24/01 23:29:46
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User Comments

4/03/11 Glenn ABSOLUTELY STUNNING, stars Zhang Ziyi before she did Crouching Tiger HIdden Dragon. 5 stars
6/14/08 david mack finely crafted and beautifully moving film 4 stars
5/25/08 PAUL SHORTT A TOUCHING AND TENDER LOVE STORY 4 stars
7/01/04 amelie kirk far from a waste of time 5 stars
2/09/04 Tom J. A perfect love story you will always savor! 5 stars
11/21/03 rony I thought the movie was so sad and very beautiful at the same time. you rock Zhang Ziyi!!!! 5 stars
7/22/03 Chance simple, beautiful, and extremely moving 5 stars
7/13/03 bkbk Moving on so many levels, especially for a teacher. 5 stars
3/29/03 Goofy Maxwell B&W works in the early scenes, but after that stunning hr.-long flashback, it feels flat. 4 stars
3/27/03 Ionicera very pretty but achingly dull 3 stars
10/09/02 Chance This film is sweet, simple, and beautiful 5 stars
1/30/02 The Bomb 69 touching story about love, customs, and a very hot Zhang Ziyi!!! 5 stars
7/26/01 kris Very nice filmmaking. 5 stars
7/09/00 Purple Monster Evocative viewing 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-May-2001

UK
  N/A

Australia
  06-Jul-2000


Directed by
  Yimou Zhang

Written by
  Shi Bao

Cast
  Ziyi Zhang
  Honglei Sun
  Hao Zheng
  Yuelin Zhao
  Bin Li
  Guifa Chang



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