Director: Zhang Yimou
Chinese director Zhang Yimou burst onto the world film scene with daring, stylish masterpieces featuring his luminous muse Gong Li in works such as Raise the Red Lantern and To Live. After their romantic relationship ended, so did their filmmaking partnership (until recently) and his productivity waned until the release in 1999 of two quiet, simplistic works about teachers in rural China—the neorealist Not One Less about a thirteen year old girl forced to teach a class filled with rowdy children and the superior The Road Home, starring what would become his new muse, Zhang Ziyi. Filmed just one year before the actress became a household name with her awe-inspiring turn in Ang Lee’s magical martial arts romance Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—The Road Home is one of the most visually striking pieces of cinema to come out of China in the last decade. Winner of the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival and the Grand Prix Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, Yimou’s film begins somberly in black and white as Luo Yusheng returns to his rural Chinese village after learning that his beloved schoolteacher father has passed away. His mother tells the dubious Luo of her adamant wish for her husband to be given a traditional burial carried through the village on foot so that he will never forget his road home and soon Yimou launches us into a lusciously photographed, extended flashback (making up the majority of the picture) that shares the story of his parents’ courtship. Zhang Ziyi is adorable and innocently expressive as the teenager struck by her attraction to the new schoolteacher and Luo realizes along with the audience that, despite the popular traditions of arranged marriage and class separations, the marriage of his parents was based on mutual respect and genuine romantic attraction. While virtually forgotten in light of Yimou’s recent masterpiece The House of Flying Daggers (also starring Ziyi), nonetheless The Road Home has become in its own quiet way one of my very favorite films of the director, brought beautifully to life in the DVD transfer from Sony Pictures Classics.