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'The Road Home'

A Stunning romance, 'The Road Home' takes journey to land of beauty and fable

Friday, July 06, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Zhang Ziyi's face may never launch a thousand ships. But in the Chinese movie "The Road Home," it radiates with a glow that powers the film's deep emotional impact, which is all the more heartfelt because it springs from the commonplace lives of ordinary people.

Better known as the younger female star of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," Zhang made her film debut in "The Road Home," now at the Harris Theater. She was 19 at the time, wore her hair in pigtails and, in the movie, is the stunningly beautiful picture of fresh, untrammeled innocence.

 
    Movie Review

'THE ROAD HOME'

RATING: G

STARRING: Zhang Ziyi, Zheng Hao, Sun Honglei.

DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou.

CRITIC'S CALL: 4 stars.

 
 

She portrays Zhao Di, the prettiest girl in the village of Sanhetun in northern China. A new schoolteacher, Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao), has come to town, and Zhao Di falls in love at first sight.

In this time (the late 1950s) and place, she can't just walk up and tell him. But she goes out of her way in hopes of stealing a glimpse, and she loves the sound of his voice as he chants to his pupils. She uses the town's older water well because it is located nearer the school. She waits by the side of the road for Luo to walk home after work, usually with a group of students, and runs to a nearby woods so she can follow him without being observed.

Inevitably, they meet. Slowly, their affection deepens. But as Zhao's blind grandmother (Li Bin) points out, they are not of his station in life -- as we see, this culture reveres its educators. It also follows the custom of arranged marriages -- no one in Sanhetun can remember a love match. Politics rears its ugly head and threatens Zhao's happiness as well.

But nothing can shake her devotion and perseverance -- not illness, custom, separation or even government edict. Director Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern," "The Story of Qui Ju") trains his camera on his leading lady's face, and she rewards him -- and us -- with a panoply of emotional responses that are as moving as they are direct.

He also surrounds her with the beauty of the film's rural setting -- a blaze of autumn colors that make her seem all the more like a force of nature. The winter of her discontent follows, but her determination defies the elements. And then comes spring, the season of renewal.

The simplicity of the story (Bao Shi wrote the screenplay and the novel on which it is based) and the spectacular views of the countryside have inspired valid comparisons to the work of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. His movie "The Wind Will Carry Us" also found a kind of transcendence in the glories of the land and the plainness of life in a remote village. Zhang Yimou's single indulgence is composer San Bao's lush soundtrack, which hammers home the romanticism that Zhang clearly intended.

Still, "The Road Home" finds its truths chiefly in a spiritual realm. It is a fable of sorts and even an elegy for a way of life. The movie begins and ends with a modern-day sequence in which Zhao Di's adult son (Sun Honglei) returns home from the city after his father's death. His mother insists on following the old ritual of having local men carry the coffin from the hospital to the village, but there are not enough young men left to accomplish this.

These scenes, which take place in winter, are all the more chilly for being filmed in black and white. The elderly Zhao Di, portrayed by Zhao Yuelin, has turned into such a crone that we cannot help but reflect on the transitory nature of beauty and youth, politics and lifestyles and even tradition.

But love is permanent. Emotions endure. These are the indestructible paving stones, found within each of us, that make up "The Road Home."

'THE ROAD HOME'

RATING: G

STARRING: Zhang Ziyi, Zheng Hao, Sun Honglei.

DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou.

Critic's call: 4 stars.

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