Starring: Zhang Ziyi, Sun Honglei, Zheng Hao
Director: Zhang Yimou
Running Time: 89 mins
The Road Home is a Chinese film following a young man’s recollection of the story of how his mother and father first met in the 1950s upon learning of his father’s death.
As far as Zhang Yimou’s series of films in the 1990s goes, The Road Home has to be the most pleasant and delightful of all. Whilst it features within a historical context, the film is far more focused on providing a sweet and touching story of romance, complete with wonderful performances, beautiful visuals and a heartwarming and often emotionally moving screenplay that makes for a thoroughly pleasant watch.
Forgive me for a moment while I compare this film to The Notebook. In effect, the plot has the same beats as any modern chick flick, following a woman who just can’t ever be with the man she loves, no matter how much he may love her back. However, the reason that The Road Home is so much better than The Notebook, and has a completely different atmosphere, is because it’s wonderfully understated.
This isn’t all about the little people playing a big role in history’s most important events, nor is it intent on giving you melodramatic and overly passionate performances and dialogue. Instead, the majority of the film is a blissfully simple and warm story of two normal people falling in love, and all the silly little things that happen in the process that make it all the more personal and heartwarming.
At the centre of it all is Zhang Ziyi, who puts in an excellent performance as the mother at the age of 18. What she does so well in this film is give off the persona of a young, innocent child, reinforced by everything about her costume and hairstyle, thereby giving the film its cute and cosy atmosphere, and yet still show enough emotion to bring you ever closer to her young character, giving you both a pleasant and yet emotionally riveting main character to follow, something makes this romantic drama particularly enjoyable.
Now, don’t think that the film is all roses and sunshine, because there are also some very moving moments that aren’t always in line with the generally pleasant, fairytale-like atmosphere. Particularly in the film’s opening and closing sequences, set in the present day after the death of the father, there’s a palpable sense of loss in the air, as the mother, now at an older age, tries to go on with her life yet with a gaping hole right in the middle.
That’s something that really comes into play for the film’s touching ending, but another reason that both of the present day sequences work so well is because they’re in black-and-white. Apart from the obvious that it’s simply less vibrant, the black-and-white has a stark contrast with the flashback, which are shot entirely in beautiful colours, giving that sense of loss an even greater importance that you can physically see on screen.
The colours of the flashback, on the other hand, are truly wonderful. As the son recalls the story of his mother and father’s love, we see the characters move about in a dazzling natural landscape, which, rather than presenting the harshness of rural life in 1950s China, as many of Zhang Yimou’s films do, it appears as a magical, colourful and almost fairytale-like place, where the city is a far-off world detached from the peaceful reality of the countryside, something that plays an integral role in making the film such a wonderful watch.
Overall, The Road Home may not have the historical intensity that you may expect from a 1990s Zhang Yimou, however it takes a standard romance story and makes it a truly wonderful and often even moving watch. With delightful performances, an excellent screenplay and brilliant directing at every moment, The Road Home is a heartwarming, pleasant and even cute film that I absolutely loved watching, which is why I’m giving it a 7.7.