For the first time in many years businessman Luo Yusheng drives to Sanhetun, the village in North China where he was born. The district mayor called him to tell him that his father died suddenly, and Yusheng is rushing back to be with his mother. He finds her grief-stricken, keeping a sad vigil outside the decrepit village schoolhouse. But she is adamant that her husband’s funeral will follow age-old local customs, even if they are rarely observed nowadays. She will personally weave the funeral cloth on the village loom, and local men must carry the coffin from the hospital back to the village.
The mayor hopes that Yusheng will persuade his mother to be more ‘reasonable’ – for example, to allow the coffin to be driven rather than carried. He fears that even if he could find men willing to carry the coffin many miles through the winter snows, there would not be enough of them. Most of the young men of Sanhetun – like Yusheng himself – have left the village to work in faraway cities.
As he watches his mother weave the funeral cloth, Yusheng reflects on what he’s heard of his parents’ courtship. Everyone in the village knew the story at that time.
His mother Zhao Di was an 18-year-old (living with her blind, widowed mother) when the 20-year-old Luo Changyu arrived from East Gate to be the village schoolteacher. She was considered the prettiest girl in Sanhetun, and she set her sights on the handsome newcomer as soon as she saw him. When Changyu teamed up with the village men to build a new schoolhouse (and Zhao Di, following tradition, was nominated to weave the red cloth that would be wound around its rafters), she always hoped that Changyu would pick her dishes from the lunch-table provided communally by the women. And when the new school was opened, Zhao Di took to drawing water from the little-used old well – because that brought her close to the schoolhouse and gave her the chance of passing Changyu as he escorted pupils home.
Her efforts to attract the teacher’s attention were successful. By the time it was Zhao Di and her mother’s turn to invite Changyu to eat in their home, he was shyly showing his interest. And so it was a huge blow to Zhao Di when men arrived from the city to take Changyu away with them for questioning. Changyu snatched a moment to say goodbye to Zhao Di, promising to return as soon as possible and giving her a hairpin as a small gift. During Changyu’s protracted absence, Zhao Di went to the schoolhouse to clean it up and repair its paper windows. That was when the rest of the villagers realised that she and Changyu were in love. There was much talk, because arranged marriages were still the norm then. This was Sanhetun’s first “love match”.
Changyu was away for a long time. One day he was rumoured to be due back, but didn’t return. Zhao Di waited for him so long she became feverish and then set off through the snow and mist to look for him in the city. She was found collapsed in the snow and brought home with a bad chill. She woke two days later to find that Changyu had come back, and had sat by her bedside for hours. It turned out that Changyu had sneaked away without permission from some political tribunal in the city specifically to see her. His disobedience was punished when he went back to the city, and he and Zhao Di were kept apart for two more years. When he finally came back along ’The Road Home" to Sanhetun, Zhao Di was there to greet him. And they were never separated again.
Back in the present, Yusheng realises that his mother’s wishes for Changyu’s funeral must be respected. He gives the mayor 5000 yuan to hire 32 men to carry the coffin in shifts and to keep them plied with cigarettes and rice-wine. But when the day of the funeral arrives, more than a hundred of Changyu’s former pupils turn up to carry his coffin, and none of them will accept payment. The coffin is laid to rest near the old well, overlooking the schoolhouse.
Next day Zhao Di takes Yusheng to the schoolhouse (due to be rebuilt next spring) and reminds him that his father always hoped that he would succeed him as the village teacher. And before he leaves to go back to his job in the city, Yusheng spends one day teaching the local children in the old building. –Sony Pictures Classics
Zhang Yimou is one of the best-known directors of the Chinese Fifth Generation and one of the most influential and widely respected filmmakers working today. Zhang was born in 1950, in the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, to a future in Communist China that seemed unpromising; his father was an officer in Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Army and one of his brothers was accused of being a spy, while another fled to Taiwan. During the 1950s, his family’s background was suspect and during the convulsive tumult of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, it was criminal. Zhang was pulled out of high school and sent to toil with the peasants. Later, he transferred to a textile factory. While working there, Zhang reportedly sold his own blood to buy his first camera.
In 1978, at the age of 27, Zhang passed the entrance exam for the Beijing Film Academy but was rejected on account of his age. After an appeal to the Ministry of Culture, however, he was enrolled in the B.F.A.‘s class of 1982… read more
Retrospective romance, love’s eternal enduring qualities, the precedence of honour and the strength of family set against a backdrop of cultural change. As ever with Zhang it’s visually impressive with striking oranges and reds featuring amongst the gorgeous rural landscapes. It’s heart is firmly in the right place but the emotional pull isn’t quite as strong as in Happy Times and Not One Less.
This is a film that takes you deep into the life and traditions of a Chinese village. Really beautiful.
I'm not very sentimental, but this film almost got to me, which is more than what most films do. Again Zhang Yimou gives us a beautiful looking film, but I feel this one has a little more heart than his others. I thought this was a wonderful film about love and respect and honoring love and respect.
Entre las virtudes de este film de Yimou destacan una puesta en escena, bastante sencilla pero muy efectiva, algunos apuntes interesantes (la oposiciòn entre tradiciòn y modernidad, por ejemplo), pero sobre todo, la mirada del director, quien evita los lugares comunes ò lacrimogenos de una historia romantica, por lo que el resultado es, por momentos, muy emotivo. Debut de la joven y reconocida actriz Ziyi Zhang.