Director: Zhang Yimou
Writer: Bao Shi; based on Remembrance by Bao Shi
Cinematographer: Hou Yong
Producer: Zhang Weiping and Zhao Yu
by Jon Cvack
Long before any interest in cinema, I once followed an incredible local band whose drummer went on to start another hardcore/rock ‘n roll hybrid group called Raise the Red Lantern. When I got into films I remember looking up the film, surprised to see it wasn’t some war or action movie, but about a concubine in a small Chinese village. I only recently saw the film, glad I waited until I was older so I could fully appreciate it. The next film I saw was Not One Less (1999), about a younger substitute teacher whose assigned to a small and impoverished village when one of the boys runs away to the city and she races off to find him; not as pretty as Raise the Red Lantern (1991), but containing and equally intimate and tiny story that speaks volumes with its insights into relationships and community or complete lack of.
Having gotten into the fourth round of my Master List, it’s exciting when I start to grasp an unfamiliar filmmaker’s style. I knew The Road Home, even with all its talk about Mao’s Communist Revolution would be far smaller. It opens in black and white when the son (Sun Honglei) is called back home after his father had died. The mother wants the son to provide a traditional funeral, marching the casket back up the road to the small village where the father and mother first met. The son then begins the story and we shift into color.
The first thing I noticed was the score, expecting per the style some American composer that did Little Giants or Now and Then or Beethoven or any 90s kids movie). It was actually a Chinese man by the name San Bao (who I can’t find much about), who had somehow near perfectly capture or share in the development of that 90s type of coming-of-age style - I’ll link below. The story is about a young peasant farmer girl Zhao Di (Zhang Ziyi), born and raised in a remote village, whose daily routine involves caring for her blind grandmother and cooking food for the construction workers who’re building a new school. When the teacher Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao) shows up, Zhao immediately falls in love, and so we witness all the universal foibles of a person trying to first impress someone they're attracted to.
I watched Satyajit Ray’s Jalsghar after this and though the DVD was possibly the worst pirated-like transfer I ever saw (I got it through Netflix) it provided an equally universal and fascinating story - about a couple of lonely men who’ve grown bored with life, aside from music which can lift them up. In The Road Home, the communists call back Luo for breaking a law, leaving me wondering whether Yimou would explain what happened or leave it all to the power of history and our knowledge. The blanks I filled in involved liberal politics that he was likely beaten for, and yet determined to get back to the love of his life.
Yimou Zhang creates films that make me wish I could appreciate the smaller moments; or even a life beyond entertainment and all that comes with living in a big and expensive city with a lot of ambitious people. He captured a moment that extended beyond the images and story and into a feel that took me back to home; remembering my parents house during the summer; my toy cars all over the patio table; my dad cutting the grass while the sox game played played. It’s a film that makes me think of how great it was to be able to only think of what’s in front you; offering the thrill of a first adventure. It’s a movie where I’m sure when everyone gets down to the tiniest detail - in that it’s a story about love - and extends in a thousand different directions, all with shades of melancholy and hope.
BELOW: Beautiful score from Sao Ban
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