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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Road Home (Wo de fu qin mu qin) (1999)

"Carrying the dead is an old custom. Over the mountains, across the river, past the crossroads. And we shout at him along the way. We tell him, 'this is the road home.' Everyone yells at him, so that he remembers his way home."
- Carpenter Xia (Qi Liu)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: November 27, 2001

Stars: Zhang Ziyi
Other Stars: Sun Honglei, Zheng Hao, Zhao Yuelin
Director: Zhang Yimou

MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01h:29m:14s
Release Date: November 27, 2001
UPC: 043396061712
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The Road Home, the 1999 film from director Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern) that eventually made it to U.S. theaters in 2001, begins in black and white. It's the proper palette, for the small village in which the story takes place is trapped in the throes of bitter winter. But warmth of another kind has also left the village—the longtime schoolteacher (Zheng Hao) has died, leaving behind his wife of 40 years, Di (Zaho Yuelin). Her son (Sun Honglei) returns from the city to oversee his father's funeral.

But his mother insists that the old traditions be honored. The teacher died away from home, and she wants his body to be carried back to the village, in accordance with the belief, which several in the village regard as an old superstition, that he must be accompanied on the path so that he doesn't forget the way home. Her son is reluctant; there are few men left in the village able to make such a strenuous trip. But then he remembers the stories of his parent's courtship, when his father first came to the village on the very same road.

The transition to the past includes a switch to glorious, color-drenched hues of golden brown, the images of the past remembered through the comforting gauze of memory. Di is a young girl (Zhang Ziyi), and like the rest of the village, is excited about the new schoolhouse. But she takes more of an interest than most in the new teacher, a handsome young man from the city. She shyly observes him, cooking him special meals and waiting for him every day after his classes, only to run into the trees before he can spot her. But he does notice her, luminescent in her pink overcoat, and is drawn to her just as much as she to him. Their relationship unfolds slowly; and it's like most memories, full of the good times, but little of the bad (there's a hint of Mao-era troubles for the young teacher, but they are never explained, except in the context of an obstacle for love to overcome).

It is appropriate that the picture switches to color with the introduction of Zhang Ziyi, for she is the blinding light at its center. This performance predates her internationally acclaimed work in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it is just as impossible to take your eyes off of her here. The supporting cast is likewise excellent, but Ziyi is unquestionably the heart and soul of The Road Home.

Zhang Yimou has crafted a beautiful film, and the cinematography, from Hou Yong, is breathtaking, full of golden CinemaScope fall vistas and icy, forlorn winters. Rarely have I seen a film where imagery and color so clearly match the tone and mood of a scene. The camera focuses much of the time on only Ziyi, alone in the frame, as she reacts to something the teacher does, or waits for him, ever hopeful and vigilant when he is away, and she has such presence that these scenes could encompass the entire film.

It's unusual to find such an honest, uncalculated, and heartfelt romance, even more so one with a G rating. Zhang Ziyi, now on her way to Hollywood stardom with a role in Rush Hour 2, is just as captivating as an awkward teen in love as she is a fiery, rebellious warrior, and The Road Home is a perfect outlet for her talents.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar has a somewhat poor track record when it comes to image quality on their Asian releases, but I'm happy to report that The Road Home suffers from none of them. This is an all around beautiful transfer. The black & white portions that bookend the film look very clean and crisp, with excellent contrast, though these portions do suffer from slight aliasing and artifacting. However, the color portions are simply breathtaking; the tones are alternately rich and saturated or muted and cold, depending on the mood of the scene. Golden hues play a large part in much of the film, and they stay consistent vibrant. Black level is good in the color scenes as well, and edge enhancement is rarely a noticeable problem. The film's wonderful cinematography is well served by this outstanding transfer. The case advertises a pan & scan transfer as well, but it doesn't seem to be on the disc.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This is a fine transfer that does a good job of creating atmosphere, but it features little in the way of surround action. Dialogue is anchored in the center, and always seems clear, crisp, and natural, although it is difficult to tell when the actors are speaking another language. The surrounds only come into play a little bit, carrying ambient noises like the sound of the wind. The wonderful score makes full use of the front soundstage. Other than that, there's little in the way of sound effects, and little need for directional trickery.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Not One Less, Shanghai Triad, The Story of Qui Ju, Crounching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There's brief filmographies for Zhang Ziyi and the director, along with a trailer gallery that includes a spot for The Road Home, and those for Not One Less, Shanghai Triad, The Story of Qui Ju, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Gorgeous cinematography and an achingly honest performance from Zhang Ziyi supplement a sweet, simple, and tender story of love and devotion in a land of tradition. Sony Pictures Classics has done a fine job with the DVD, and this one is highly recommended.


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