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The Face of Love

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 8, 2001

   


    'The Road Home' Zhang Ziyi and Zheng Hao in "The Road Home." (Sony Pictures Classics)
There are few faces more delicate and arresting than Zhang Ziyi's in "The Road Home," a beautifully textured, disarmingly simple movie about romantic devotion.

As Zhao Di, an 18-year-old girl who becomes fixated, then deeply involved with her village's new teacher, the co-star of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" literally looms large in this movie. While the smitten Zhao Di studies 20-year-old teacher Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao), director Zhang Yimou focuses so frequently on Ziyi's face in extreme close-up that she sticks like a daguerreotype to your retina – and then your heart.

Too shy to approach him but too infatuated to stay out of sight, Zhao Di watches him from every possible vantage point: mountaintops, behind the school fence and from a seldom-used well on a hillside, which happens to be near Luo Changyu's schoolhouse. She is crazily, giddily, in love and, despite the obstacles thrown between them, she holds on to that love to the bitter end.

Zhao Di's romance with Luo Changyu is a story within a story. The film starts years later, as city businessman Luo Yusheng (the son of their marriage) returns to the village for the funeral of his father. The teacher has died. And his grieving widow, the now-elderly Zhao Di, has a demand: that they follow ancient tradition and physically carry Luo Changyu's coffin from a distant hospital to the village.

The problem is, there are no young men to bear the coffin. Luo Yusheng is going to have to find strong hands from other villages and pay them.

While this pressing issue hangs in the air, Luo Yusheng remembers the story of his parents, how they met, how the government stole two years from their romance by ordering the teacher back to the city for political correction, and finally, how Zhao Di kept unstinting vigil on those mountainsides until his return.

Zhang Yimou, screenwriter Bao Shi and cinematographer Hou Yong have taken a small tale – we're talking about a burial and an old story, not much more – and made it almost transcendental.

This movie is about so many nonverbal realities, such as the rich silences between Zhao Di and Luo Changyu as they exchange subtle signals of romantic interest or the powerful impact of the land and the seasons as Zhao Di weathers winter on a mountainside, her eyes fixed on the road Luo Changyu must take to leave the village or return. Above all, we spend this movie trained on that unforgettable face, the same one that brought such vulnerability to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" as the ingenue Jen. And as we observe the observer, the one who spends so much time waiting for love, her story becomes ours.

"The Road Home" (G, 100 minutes) – Contains nothing objectionable. In Mandarin Chinese with subtitles. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Cinema Arts Theatre, Fairfax.

 

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