Having been impressed by Hero (Ying Xiong), and excited by the trailer to the upcoming House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu), I jumped at the chance to watch The Road Home when it came on my local foreign language tv station. Lucky I did!
The Road Home is a simple story, no twists or turns, just a family’s history presented for us to enjoy. Starting with the death of the father, then flashing back to when he and his wife met, then forward again to his funeral, the majority of time is spent with Zhang Ziyi as she falls in love with him in the past. This love story is beautifully told, with economy of narration, the right amount of subtle glances and outright passion, and a visual style you’d expect from Yimou.
The real beauty of The Road Home, is the way Ziyi can convey her love, without much dialogue. With actions speaking louder than words being her motto, she proceeds to cook, clean and run for her man, choosing to let him know in this way – probably the only way to do so in this time and culture. Although many of her actions would in this day and age be considered stalking, it is her fascination and then adoration of her lover that leads her to them, and we sympathise completely. The lengths it takes her, and the dangers she faces, are the indication of how true her love is.
As the main character, with so much riding on her shoulders, and in her first film (!), the nineteen year old Zhang Ziyi is wonderful. With an expressive face, she capably informs of her interest, developing love, and passion. In spite of the limited dialogue, she tells us the story of her heart… no small feat. She is amazing in this film, and had to be for it to work at all.
The cinematography is, as anyone who has seen Hero (Ying Xiong) would expect, stunning – the use of the changing seasons, and of colour again a highlight. This tiny run-down village in China becomes a place of wonder. The swirling snow along the ground around Ziyi as she waits for her man was my favourite visual accomplishment. The soundtrack is unfortunately a litte intrusive at times, although the main theme certainly is catchy enough. I just though it occasionally jarred with the vision – I was already moved and didn’t need the swelling of the theme to tell me to be.
The use of colour footage for the flashback and black and white for the current day action allows us to view the courtship in all its romantic colours, and after death we are left with the washed out black and white again. Surely not the most subtle of visual tools, but it works. Yes, this film manipulates the viewer, but I was more than happy to be manipulated. I was moved to tears by the final outcome, the final acts the mother and son could perform out of love for their dead husband and father.
The Road Home is a simple story of love, told beautifully, with economy of dialogue and a perfect visual style. Touching on themes of filial responsibility, love for the ages and the beauty and simplicity of the past, it is a brilliant achievement.Rating: