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Friday Film Review: Wo de fu qin mu qin (The Road...

Wo de fu qin mu qin (The Road Home) Wo de fu qin mu qin (The Road Home) (1999)
Genre: Drama/Romance
Grade: B

Ever since I first rented “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers” among others, Netflix has been pushing this one at me. I’d always resisted because frankly it didn’t sound that interesting. Finally I threw up my hands and said “okay, I’ll rent it already!” And am I glad that I did.

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Zhang, Yimou takes only 89 minutes to tell this lovely tale of a young woman (Zhang, Ziyi) falling in love with the new teacher (Zheng, Hao) in her remote village in 1950s China. The film starts in B&W with a middle aged man (Sun, Honglei) returning to his ancestral village at the news of his father’s death. He finds his elderly mother determined to have her husband’s body brought back in the traditional manner from the larger city hospital where he died. The only problem is it’s now the dead of winter and most of the young people of the village have left to find jobs in other places. Who will carry the coffin back through the snows? As he waits for the mayor to try and hire neighboring village men, he thinks back on his parent’s courtship (which is shown in color) – something which has passed into legend in their small town.

The story is fairly basic and mainly deals with his mother’s attempts to catch the eye of the new teacher and his obvious pleasure and desire to be caught. Di isn’t educated but she can cook her way to a man’s heart and can weave better than any woman in the village. Ignoring her mother’s warnings that Luo, Changyu is above her status, she uses every trick she can think of to be near him and be noticed by him. And soon, he begins to go out of his way to be near her too including one hilarious scene when he tries to get water from the village well while she’s there but is thwarted by another village man who insists that this is too menial a type of labor for their educated teacher to do. As the story progresses, we see that not even a blizzard nor Communist Party officials can keep these two apart. But it’s at the end that it’s shown just how much Luo is revered by the generations of children he taught.

The film is slow, taking its time to show life in rural China then. How water was drawn from the wells, the cooking skills which Di uses to snag her man, how broken porcelain is repaired, how the school was built and how lovingly Di tends the school while Changyu is away. The scenery is gorgeous with Zhang, Yimou having Zhang, Ziyi in brightly color contrasting coats for most of the film. And the mushroom dumplings Di steams for Changyu look scrumptious.

I had thought I might feel cheated since the reminiscence sequence ends just as the couple is finally brought back together with no wedding or married life scenes but from the way Di mourns for her husband, I can imagine the long and happy life they obviously had. The tribute his students pay to him in death, showing the love and reverence of the villagers for their beloved teacher, brought a tear to my eye.

I will warn that if you don’t like Zhang, Ziyi you might think twice about watching the movie since there are a lot of shots of her. There’s also very little dialogue which forces the actors to convey a wealth of emotion in glances and movements – something they manage beautifully. But never doubt that it’s love at first sight for these two without all the overblown schmaltzy scenes which would try and force-feed us that fact.

So if you’re willing to take a chance on a romance with no sex – in fact I don’t think they even hold hands, a slower pace and the need to pay attention to what the actors are conveying just with their facial expressions, do as I (finally) did and give this one a go.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

15 Comments

  1. Christine M.
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 06:28:14

    You mean some peopel don’t like Zhang Ziyi? I’ve seen her in a few films (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and I think she’s a lovely actress.

    Also, thanks for the rec, I’ll have to look it up!

  2. Jayne
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 07:49:41

    @Christine M.: I think she’s lovely too but there’s a LOT of her in this film unlike the others.

  3. Christine M.
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 08:13:32

    @Jayne: It’s like telling me there’s too much Jason Isaac or Alan Rickman in a film…. doesn’t happen, ever! *winks* Plus, I love her hairstyle/braids in the movie stills… I’ll have to find a way to make those. (I’m also totally jealous of how thick her hair looks.) /shallow

  4. Jayne
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 08:32:38

    OMG, swoon. Me luvs Issacs and Rickman. Must go fan myself.

    She looks a little like Pippi Longstocking for most of the film.

  5. Maili
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 08:41:59

    I remember liking this film when I saw it years ago, but I was left somewhat indifferent because I felt it was somewhat a travelogue. Hm, I should re-watch it because I’m a lot older now, which means I could perhaps finally appreciate the subtle texture of the film.

    Thank you for writing this review.

    @Christine M.:

    You mean some peopel don't like Zhang Ziyi?

    :D Seriously though, she to mainland China and Hong Kong is what Gwyneth Paltrow is to the U.S.
    Like GP in the U.S., ZZ’s recognised as one of most successful international Chinese actresses but dear me, so unpopular. The media (and the public) mocks and criticises almost everything she does, just like the US and public do to GP. In Hong Kong, almost everyone I knew didn’t like ZZ.
    The reason… well, the impression I had: she holds contempt for mainland China (and other Asian countries), making them hold contempt for her in return.

    Edited: I used GP as an example because GP made similar comments about the U.S., causing some to dislike her. Just like ZZ and her comments, etc. Hope this clarifies a bit.

  6. Jayne
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 08:47:54

    @Maili: I don’t think her getting the title role in Memoirs of a Geisha helped either. Frankly I think Li Gong and Michelle Yeoh are better actresses and Maggie Cheung is certainly better looking, IMO.

  7. Christine M.
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 09:18:44

    @Maili: I see your point… Some of us Quebecers have the same ‘issues’ with Celine Dion’s international carreer *G*

    @Jayne: Now it’s my turn to go fan myself. Mind you, my knowledge of Asian actresses pretty much stops there–very mainstream of me, I guess–but what gorgeous and talented ladies they are.

  8. Carrie Lofty
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 09:30:59

    I did a review of this several years ago and had to go back and read it to remember the film. Enjoyable, but not one of Zhang Yimou’s more memorable works. Funny that we shared many of the same observations, in particular the daily life vignettes and the director’s love affair with Zhang Ziyi’s face.

  9. Maili
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 10:31:26

    @Jayne: Ha! True, but when Li Gong, Michelle Yeoh and Kenneth Tsang won those roles in that film, they didn’t get ripped apart in the media like how it happened to ZZ when she won hers later. I still find this puzzling.

    I have never been that keen on Michelle Yeoh, to be honest, because I feel she has a limited range of acting abilities. At least, in fairness, she’s not as wooden as ZZ!

    Maggie Cheung isn’t better looking, IMO, but I’m always grateful to her – and Anthony Wong – for being such an awesome poster child of UK/HK hybrid (she spent her childhood and youth in England, and he was born & raised in Bristol, England).

    Sorry for turning this into a gossipy response. Please do feel free to delete this if it’s not appropriate.

  10. Jayne
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 17:28:38

    @Carrie Lofty: Great review, Carrie. I totally agree with you that there is a lot of toil in the film but since all the women seemed to be toiling, it didn’t bother me so much. Also agree that the wooing part of the film needs the beginning and the end, showing the elderly Di and her son, in order to make it richer in meaning.

  11. Jayne
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 17:35:13

    @Christine M.: Well, my knowledge of Chinese actresses doesn’t go much further. Sammi Cheng is cute and I’ve enjoyed her and Andy Lau in a few Hong Kong romcoms. Miriam Yeung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai have also done some good “popcorn” movies together.

  12. Jayne
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 17:42:17

    @Maili: Hell no, it doesn’t bother me. Prop your feet up and feel free to spill all your lovely gossip.

  13. msaggie
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 17:44:18

    Thanks Jayne for this lovely review of The Road Home (the Chinese title “Wo de fu qin mu qin” actually means “My father and mother” – but that’s a really boring title in English). I saw it when it first came out and was moved to tears too at the end. It’s much more than a romance between the narrator’s parents. A significant underlying theme in this movie is filial piety. It was particularly heart-rending to the narrator when he discovered that so many people treasured his father throughout his life. And the narrator had moved away from his parents’ village for so many years that he had lost touch with his background and did not appreciate the contributions his father had made to the community until after the latter’s death. I love this movie for more than the romance. It emphasises the importance of family and belonging, and how we should not take our family for granted. And it’s told in a moving way, without being cheesy and in-your-face. The most touching scenes are at the end when the narrator teaches a lesson in his father’s old classroom – it provided closure for him.

  14. Jayne
    Jul 23, 2010 @ 17:57:28

    @msaggie: Yeah that would be a sort of boring title in English. Not that “The Road Home” is much more of a thriller! It’s fun to read the alternate titles at IMDB.

  15. Dishonor
    Jul 24, 2010 @ 13:54:51

    I remember how I loved this movie when I was a kid. I first watched it in Chinese when I was 6 (along with my parents), and I remember crying my head off by the time we hit the end, even though I didn’t really understand everything in the courtship. Your review is wonderful.

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