A simple story carved from Chinese culture. Traditions and history are on display here as much as the inner and outer lives of the characters. The visual embellishments are mostly restrained but you can see them waiting, wanting to burst out. This is Zhang Ziyi's feature film debut and she is lovely to behold, dressed in her fuschia red coat against the sprawling rural landscapes, flapping her arms like a child when she runs, but she has an oddly shaped head. I found this feature of hers a little weird, kept wondering where the back of her head ran off to. All said and done, a minor distraction in what is another touching and very human tale from director Zhang Yimou. I love the way the love is grounded, given foundation, in the schoolhouse the father helped build and his legacy helped rebuild. Sad though, that the mother remained illiterate.
Following on the heels of director Zhang Yimou's Not One Less (1999), which won the top prize at the 1999 Venice Film Festival, comes this sensitively-wrought portrait of a young woman's unshakable love. The film opens in the present, shot in gritty black and white, as businessman Luo Yusheng (Sun Honglei) returns to his hometown in the rural Hebei province to attend the funeral of his father. When Luo suggests that the coffin should be brought home from the hospital on a tractor, his aging mother Zhao Di (Zhao Yuelin) rebuffs him, insisting that they conform to custom and have it carried home by local men. Later, as Luo recalls his parent's courtship, the film switches to color and travels back in time about 40 years. A young, beautiful Zhao Di (Zhang Ziyi) find herself falling for the village's handsome new teacher Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao). As the males in the village join together to build a school for the burg, Zhao Di helps the other women prepare food, waiting patiently to meet the strapping educator. Just as their romance begins, Luo is suddenly ordered to leave by the Communist authorities. As Luo packs up and leaves the village, Zhao Di races hither and thither carrying his favorite steamed dumplings, hoping to catch him before he departs. Though the odds of reunion seem slim, Zhao Di steadfastly holds vigil for her lover until miraculously, Luo returns under the cover of the night only to be once again ordered to the city where he has been commanded to stay. The pair are forced to wait another two years until they can be together. This film won the prestigious Silver Bear at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival and the World Cinema Audience Award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival; the victories were all the more sweet for the director, as The Road Home was rejected outright from the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, prompting Zhang to angrily withdraw his Not One Less from competition.