AT A time when most films are characterized by cynicism and disillusion, encountering a simple love story such as Zhang Yimou’s The Road Home is like taking in a breath of fresh air after choking from the fumes of Hollywood films.

Featured as the opening film of the China Film week last June 14 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, The Road Home is a story about traditions and true love, set in a rural province in Northern China.

It begins when a young man returns to his province to help prepare his father’s funeral. However, things get complicated when his mother insists on performing the traditional burial rite—carrying the body on foot to the grave so that the soul would know the way to his final resting-place. The young man is now in a dilemma as to whether he should be practical or grant his grieving mother’s request.

And so begins the long reminiscence of how his parents met and came together.

His mother, Zhao Di (played by then newcomer Zhang Ziyi), is an 18-year old country girl living with her blind mother. The arrival of the town’s first teacher (Sun Honglei) causes a stir among the inhabitants and especially in Zhao Di, who is instantly smitten. Like any young girl with a crush, Zhao Di begins to draw elaborate schemes to catch his attention. She walks by the school everyday to hear his voice, cooks him meals, and waits for hours on the road where he usually passes by just to catch a glimpse of him. It seems that the romance can only happen from afar, until the young man starts to notice Zhao Di.

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But just when the two are beginning to get together, the young teacher is forced to leave for the city to deal with political problems. Heartbroken but still determined, Zhao Di keeps a vigil on the snowy road, hoping for his return.

Ziyi, who was popular for her role as the fierce young fighter in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, plays her role with charm and childlike innocence. She is endearingly funny especially when her character is at the height of her infatuation.

Director Yimou explores the poignancy of young love through his skillful manipulation of the camera. He employs dynamic camera angles particularly in scenes showing the sweeping Chinese countryside, the angled medium shot of the food table, and the gauzy shot of Zhao Di behind the threads of the weaving machine.

He also shows a flair for the unusual by filming the present parts of the story in somber black and white and the flashback in color, which largely contributes to maintaining the mood of each time period. The grief of the man’s family over his death is emphasized by the scene’s lack of color, while the courtship of the teacher and Zhao Di is given a vibrant atmosphere, through the play of shades and hues. The cinematography perfectly captures all the emotions of “first love”—uncertainty, longing, excitement, and disappointments.

The film doesn’t contain that much dialogue but focuses rather on the actors’ nuances and gestures. The melancholy soundtrack and the picturesque landscape accentuate the pervading silence.

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