Killer Imports is a regular feature on Film Junk where we explore foreign-language films from around the world that haven’t yet had their chance to shine.
I’m going to review an older film called The Road Home, because it’s one of my top ten favorite films ever. I realize that this is a highly subjective opinion, because I doubt there are more than a handful of people who might put this movie into their top ten. This film has garnered some attention so it’s not like a hidden gem that I’ve discovered. It did win the Audience Award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, and it won the Grand Prix Silver Berlin Bear at the 2000 Berlin International Film Festival. (I don’t know what other films have been given this honor.)
The director, Zhang Yimou, is one of the most famous Chinese directors known in the world. I’ve reviewed his Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles for Killer Imports. And the lead actress, Ziyi Zhang, is one of the most famous Chinese actresses in the world; though, at the time she made this film, she was an unknown. Her film after this, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, would make her an international star.
The story starts in black and white in the present day. A son returns home to his mother. His father has died and the mother wishes him to be buried in a special place, but the son doesn’t understand why they need to go to all this trouble. The story flashes back to how the mother and father met, and the difficulties they had in getting together. You might expect that the difficulties include things like a war interrupting their lives or some other major world event, but we only see the simple life in a village in rural China. Then the story returns to the present to resolve the issue of the father’s burial.
A simple G-Rated for General Audiences story told without any humor. There is no profanity. There is no nudity, no sex scene, no kissing, and not even any holding of hands. There are no gunfights, no sword fights, no kung-fu fights, no fights of any kind at all. Okay, the mother’s feelings are hurt when the father tells her that he has to leave town right away. And one bowl gets accidentally broken. (I might have revealed too much. Just kidding.) There are no explosions, and no vehicle chases. Oh, there is a scene where the mother chases after a cart. Basically, there’s nothing that I usually watch movies for.
If someone were to say that nothing happens in the film, then I might have to concede that point. So what is it about this film that makes it deserve an entry into my top ten favorite films? It represents a much idealized version of love. In a time when arranged marriages were the norm in China, this story is about a woman who chooses who she wants to be with even though the attraction seems rather superficial in a Chinese cultural sense. Some reviewers have been unkind as to suggest that the father is “ugly” in appearance. But the father is a school teacher, a highly respected position, from outside of the mother’s village, and so he would be seen as good husband material. Given that the mother is still living in the same village when her husband has died would seem to indicate that she did not have aspirations of a better life elsewhere and so the love and devotion she had may not have been so superficial after all.
The lifetime of love shown in this film does ignore the difficulties that arise from living together and raising a child. Perhaps this film is a celebration of the new freedoms within China. It doesn’t criticize the past. Even though the Chinese language is not a romance language, the Chinese have never had a problem keeping their numbers high. Quite the opposite. Culturally, earlier Chinese generations did disapprove of divorce. Maybe love isn’t all you need?
I would say that anyone’s top ten favorite films should be a reflection of the individual. And the reasons why any film is on someone’s favorite’s list may be varied. Each film will have its own special meaning to the viewer. What makes this film special to me is the feeling that it gives me. I don’t need this film to surprise me with anything. For me, a film doesn’t need to be re-watchable to be great, but I never seem to get tired of watching this film. Could it be that I’ve become smitten with Ziyi Zhang?
I’ve already written about how I did not initially find her physically attractive in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In this film, she is bundled up in clothing all the time and it is her face that is captivating. I find that she emotes well with facial expressions. Beyond that, I read that she affected an unusual waddle running style for the film based on her observations of locals at the location.
The music is by San Bao. I really should do a more thorough search to find some other music he has composed. The soundtrack for this film consists mainly of variations on a single theme. For me, this single theme never loses its charm. I have some of the tracks on my MP3 player. When I used to ride my bike home after work late at night with no one on the streets, this music would lift my spirits and make me happy.
Like the film, I will keep this review short and sweet. The film is not too sentimental. Any tears you shed will be those of happiness. I will leave you with some words that I first heard from Rod Serling. They are taken from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet:
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.