Zhang Yimou combines his ongoing concern with the grim state of education in China and the kind of period provincial romance for which he's known. The result is an interesting, if slightly unbalanced, hybrid: a social problem film with the warm heart of a deeply felt love story. The film opens in contemporary China, where businessman Luo Yusheng (Sun Honglei) has just learned that his father, a schoolteacher in the northern Chinese village of Sanhetun, suffered a fatal heart attack while traveling the countryside in an effort to raise money to restore Sanhetun's crumbling schoolhouse. Yusheng rushes back to the village where he was born to find his grieving mother, Zhao Di (Zhao Yuelin), inconsolable and insistent. She demands that her husband's funeral conform to age-old customs few have observed since Mao's Cultural Revolution "freed" China of many of its traditions. Zhao Di asks that her husband's body be carried back home on foot; if his body travels by car or truck, she fears, his spirit won't remember its way home. She's also adamant about weaving the funeral cloth herself, and asks her son to dust off and repair the village loom. Yushen complies, despite his irritation with his mother's obstinate traditionalism. As Zhao Di dutifully weaves deep into the night, Yushen remembers the story of his parents' courtship. The film's steely tones of grey and blue suddenly give way to a burst of brilliant, sun-drenched color, and the story flashes back to 1958. Eighteen-year-old Zhao Di (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON's utterly delightful Zhang Ziyi), the village's most beautiful maiden, is caring for her blind grandmother (Li Bin) when she first sees handsome Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao), a 20-year-old teacher who's been sent to Senhetun to first build a schoolhouse, then educate the village's children. With charming determination, Zhao Di helps prepare a daily lunch for Changyu and his construction crew, hoping to reach his heart through the surest possible route: his stomach. Stunningly shot in panoramic Cinemascope by veteran cinematographer Hou Yong (THE HORSE THIEF), Zhang's film looks back to a time shortly before the Cultural Revolution devastated China's intellectual and academic communities, before the current uneasy state of China's changing economy lured young people away to the cities, leaving their hometowns to wither and die. Zhang's good intentions, however, ultimately give his charming love story short shrift: Eager to contrast this happier, more traditional golden age with the grim reality of contemporary China, the director winds up rushing the carefully unfolding story of Zhao Di in order to return to the problematic present.
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- Released: 1999
- Rating: G
- Review: Zhang Yimou combines his ongoing concern with the grim state of education in China and the kind of period provincial romance for which he's known. The result is an interesting, if slightly unbalanced, hybrid: a social problem film with the warm heart of a… (more)