The Road Home
Often the success of one foreign film makes American companies put the spotlight on another film made marketable in tandem. Though director Zhang Yimou (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern) already has an American following, the presence of Zhang Ziyi (best known for her breakthrough performance as Shao Long in 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) helped get 1999's The Road Home (aka Wo de fu qin mu qin) its American release, with the video box art making this all the more obvious as Ziyi's face is the largest item on the cover, and has a helpful little bubble pointing out that it's "featuring the star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". After witnessing the proliferation of second-rate martial arts films in the wake of Chow Yun Fat's and Jet Li's arrival on these shores, it's relatively easy to dismiss this release as just a cash-in. Instead, film lovers should grateful The Road Home is a beautifully realized, charming, and honest love story. The film starts in black and white as businessman Yusheng (Sun Honglei) returns to the small village he grew up in for his father's funeral. But his mother has a couple strange requests she wants her loom repaired so she can make something for her husband's coffin, and she wants the body carried back into town by men so he can remember his way home, even though it is the middle of winter and a blizzard is raging. Though Yusheng is at first reticent, he reflects on his parent's courtship as the film transitions to color. His mother, Zhao Di (Zhang), was smitten when his father, Changyu (Zheng Hao), came to town to teach, and slowly as the town builds the classroom she tries to get closer to him. At first she makes her best meals for him and his fellow construction workers on the school, and then unsure that he ate her cooking she goes to the unused well near the school and wears a bright red jacket hoping to be noticed. Di's mother thinks because Changyu is a teacher and she is illiterate, the class might interfere, but her attraction is obvious to the entire town, and Changyu responds by giving her a barrette for her hair. However, the growing relationship is put at risk when Changyu is taken away by the government for questioning, only to dangerously return to Di for a brief time. After reflection, Yusheng realizes that walking through a blizzard to make his mother happy is a small price to pay.
* * *In the first section of The Road Home, posters for James Cameron's melodramatic opus Titanic (1997) are visible, and perhaps director Zhang was making a comment on the Western sensibilities of cinematic romance. In Titanic and films of its ilk, erotic passion often substitutes for any kind of meaningful relationship, where animal attraction is the height of love, and jealous violence from another suitor is the major obstacle to bliss. What Zhang does beautifully here is illustrate that love and lasting relationships aren't fraught with sinking boats or foggy back-seat windows, but instead concern the slow process of two people getting to know each other and the small gestures that can lead to a lifetime together. For Di, getting Changyu a taste of her dumplings before he leaves town with government officials is the most important thing in her life, as is holding on to the hair braid he gave her as a present. It's always impressive when a film recognizes the potency of the small things that define love, and the impact that love and Changyu's teaching has on the community around it. By having this acknowledged by their progeny, it adds a layer of melancholy as their time has ended, but we see how their love has come to live on through their son, a young man who mourns his father's through respect to his mother. Based on the book Remembrance by Bao Shi (who also wrote the screenplay), The Road Home is moving portrait of cinematic love as the film notes, the most romantic phrase in the world isn't "I love you," but instead "I'll wait for you." Columbia TriStar's DVD release presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), the original Chinese soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1, and accompanying English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Also included are filmographies for Ziyi, and Yimou, and trailers for The Road Home and their other Columbia titles. Keep-case.