There’s a scene in Zhang Yimou’s luminous, poetic, exquisitely restrained love story The Way Home in which the strong-willed young heroine (Crouching Tiger’s Zhang Ziyi) makes a desperate cross-country dash after a departing wagon on a winding rural road, carrying an earthenware bowl of dumplings.
The dumplings were made for the handsome young teacher she hopes to marry — but he, of course, has left without them, and her only hope is to catch up with the wagon by heading it off at the next pass — or the one after that.
The film knows that to a young girl hopelessly in love, this race is no grandly romantic gesture, but a matter of desperate necessity. She must, must catch the wagon; he must have the dumplings. Her future happiness depends upon it; all is lost if she fails.
The Road Home is about love acutely desired in youth and fiercely remembered in old age. In between are forty years of marriage, but we never see the couple together. We first meet the heroine as a widow making plans for her husband’s funeral, insisting with characteristic single-mindedness on the traditional hand-carrying of the casket, then revisit their unconventional courtship in a lengthy flashback narrated by the couple’s adult son. Delicately simple and emotionally satisfying.
The Road Home is available in two one-disc Region 1 DVD editions: a 2001 edition from Sony Pictures Classics, which released the film theatrically in the U.S., and a 2007 disc from Beauty Culture Communications. I haven’t compared them, but I’m intrigued to note that the Beauty Culture disc apparently runs 110 minutes, while the Sony Pictures Classics disc runs only 89 minutes. Does the longer cut represent Zhang’s cut of the film, perhaps as it played in Asia, while the 89-minute cut is the version screened for U.S. audiences? If so, I’d be interested in seeing the longer version someday.
The themes are timeless and humane, and if the film isn’t always entirely persuasive, it earns enough viewer goodwill to make up the difference. Funny, visually sumptuous, and bittersweet, Riding Alone movingly suggests that it’s better not to.
In the end, though, it turns out that the House of Flying Daggers is something the film doesn’t actually care about that much. So much is this the case, in fact, that the last time we hear tell of them, the warriors called the Flying Daggers are about to get into this huge climactic battle with the enemy soldiers, whom we see advancing slowly into the bamboo forest where the Flying Daggers are hiding… at which point the story cuts to another plot thread, never to return.
The story is pure Hong Kong melodrama, set at the dawn of the Chinese Imperial Era in the third century BC. … Yet there’s nothing even marginally conventional about Hero’s overpowering visual splendor, its effulgent riot of color and texture, its overwhelming spectacle of scale.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.