The Road Home (1999) from Mick Locke

Zhang Ziyi achieved global stardom as the demure bride-to-be/swashbuckling sword fighter in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  That’s the film I saw her in.  She was lithe, audacious, insolent, and aggressive – Juliet channeling Mercutio and Tybalt.  Audiences adored her.  How startling it is, then, to view her first film, which garnered her China-wide stardom.  The Road Home was directed by Zhang Yimou.  Since Yimou also directed her two post-CT,HD hits –  Hero and The House of Flying Daggers –  you might have supposed that Zhang Ziyi is strictly a cinematic martial artist.  The Road Home shows us otherwise.


   For guys who savored a glimpse of Ziyi’s naked belly and that fleeting wet T-shirt scene in CT,HD, y’all should continue to cherish those memories.  The Road Home presents Ziyi as a modest peasant girl of rural China in the late 1950s.  In her traditional Maoist garb, she looks swaddled like a Pillsbury Doughgirl.  The film does offer, however, plenty of full-screen lingering views of Ziyi’s teenage cherry blossom face.


   The Road Home presents a tale of courtship across the gulfs of education, class, and community norms of modesty.  If you’re unusually skittish about films with subtitles, do not fear this one.  Yes, there are spoken lines in Chinese, with some sparse text to read.  But most of the tale is conveyed by face and body language.  For instance, an early act of romantic assertion is Ziyi’s long urgent run – holding dumplings in crockery – after the departing horse and wagon carrying her beloved away.  Run, Ziyi, run!  Over hill and down dale.  No subtitles needed.


   Her heart’s been smitten upon the arrival in her village of a reserved, handsome, city-educated scholar and college graduate, dispatched by authorities to be the new school teacher.  Ziyi hovers as close as propriety allows – which is to say, meters away in a crowd.  Unschooled but resourceful, she contrives and schedules her chores so as to nonchalantly encounter her man.  I would dearly love to narrate in detail her pre-schemed rendezvous at the village well, but just trust me – you’ll love it.  I’ll spoil it not.


   This film is rendered in full-color flashback, framed by black and white fore- and after-words, sort of Wizard of Oz meets James Cameron’s Titanic.  As in Titanic, we encounter first and last the film’s vibrant main character as a dottering old woman.  In fact, quite prominent in the black and white foreword is a Chinese promotional poster for Titanic.  This helps date the film’s framing, just as a 1958 calender page dates the full-color film proper.  It’s also an echo of the Titanic narrative device of bracketing age now around youth back then.


   Our greatest relish while viewing The Road Home is the mutually growing love from afar which radiates between scholar and peasant girl.  Yimou makes the most of lush rural landscape.  Also, he lovingly displays vanishing crafts like weaving, pottery repair, and country cooking.  As a final feel-good kicker, he includes a community-wide gathering and endeavor to emphasize the richness of life this initially young couple ultimately share over decades. 


   In and of itself, this tale of romantic assertion coupled with traditional modesty makes for poignant viewing.  That it stars Zhang Ziyi in her first big-screen luminescence clinches The Road Home as a must-see.  Excellent date film. 



  • widescreen (2.35:1)



 [No nudity]

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It took in about a million dollars in a maximum of 37 theaters, and another five million abroad.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a B-, rated G, suitable for a family movie or a date film.

Return to the Movie House home page