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On foreign roads, I may be led,
No guarantees of food or bed;
I might be kept, a bitter pill,
By duty or against my will;
I may delay on land or foam,
But still I’ll know the way back home.

On dying hopes I may depend,
But they’ll be with me to the end.
For be it distance, sickness, wars
That separates my heart from yours,
I know no matter where I roam,
Our love remains my road back home.
___________________________

MPA rating: G

I would never have even heard of The Road Home if it hadn’t been suggested to me by fellow movie-loving blogger Chris of Movies and songs 365. Sorry it took years to finally put it on my Blindspot list as incentive, but a big thanks for the recommendation! With the exception of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Yi Yi, Chinese cinema is unexplored territory for me, and while action and wuxia are more likely to make a splash with western moviegoers, it’s nice to be reminded of low-key romantic dramas like The Road Home, which can be easily overlooked.

After his father dies, a young man (Sun Honglei) returns home to his rural village and widowed mother, who insists on a traditional on-foot procession to bring her husband’s body back home, since he died in a nearby city. While weighing whether to honor her logistically difficult request, the man reminisces about his parents’ well-known love story and how his mother Zhai Di (Zhang Ziyi of Crouching Tiger fame, in her first major role) first met his schoolteacher father Luo (Zheng Hao). In a creative choice also used in The Phantom of the Opera, the modern time period is presented in black-and-white while the flashbacks to 1950s China shift to bright color, showing how much more vivid Di’s memories are compared with her present-day grief.

The Road Home thrives on its simplicity and the nostalgia of young hearts fluttering after each other. Ziyi is luminous as the young Di, who longs for the village’s new schoolteacher and subtly finds ways to make her affection known. I would say there’s a bit too much of that distant flirting, with far too many repetitive shots of Di staring googly-eyed at her love, which eventually feel like padding for the already short runtime. Still, the performances are excellent, shifting from sentimentality to devoted worry when Luo is taken away by the Chinese government. The film’s real power comes at the end, though, when the impact of one rural schoolteacher on the community is made evident in a show of caring that would make Mr. Holland’s Opus proud.

The Road Home is perhaps too simple a tale to get much notice in a cinematic landscape crowded by superheroes and CGI space battles, but it’s a refreshingly human account of young love. As mentioned, some of the longing looks could have been edited out, and I rather wish we had gotten to see at least a little bit of the happy life that Di and Luo had together, instead of just its preface and epilogue. What we do see, though, is a warm and sweet reminder that our parents or grandparents loved deeply long before we came along.

Best line: (older Di, to her son) “Your father’s gone. He used to worry about you. Our children must leave home. We can’t keep you here forever. As parents, we let you go, but we never stopped worrying. Your father missed you so.”
(Yusheng, the son) “Please don’t cry.”
(Di) “With your father gone, it’s hard not to feel lonely.”
(Yusheng) “I know.”
(Di) “You must work hard and make a good life.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2022 S.G. Liput
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