I'm a romantic at heart. That's why when tonight I watched the 1999 Chinese film The Road Home, starring Zhang Ziyi as country girl Zhao Di, a teenager who experiences love at first sight with the first-ever primary-school teacher to work in her village, I get so emotionally involved in the story that I believe yet again that something such as unflinching love is possible. My daughter Billie, a 14-year-old who seems wise beyond her years in this situation, cynically questions that, then tells me that the innocence of 18-year-old Zhao Di would be impossible in today's world.
"18-year-olds now plan to lose their virginity," she says, surprising me. "But this girl looks so cute following him all around. Nowadays she'd be considered a stalker."
In the movie, Zhao Di isn't thinking sex, but stalking she does. Since first seeing Luo Yusheng, the handsome young man, during the building of the one-room schoolhouse, she shadows him everywhere, such as when he is walking his young students through the fields; she's happy to have a chance to cook a meal for him (done in rotation as a village obligation); and she's captivated hearing his voice reading aloud to his pupils. Her love has a high price though when Teacher Luo is suddenly ordered back to the city. She suffers torment not knowing if he will ever return, and her mother remarks that he's left and taken the girl's heart with him.
But all turns out well. We see the love story both past and present, young Zhao Di's early saga framed by a narrative 40 years in the future. It's in this bigger picture that we meet the story-teller, the adult son of Zhao Di and Luo Yusheng, come home to his father's funeral. It's in this context that the mature love is posited, with Zhao Di insisting that her husband's cortege be done in the traditional way, even in the winter, with his coffin carried for miles and miles from the county morgue back to the village home where their love had blossomed and endured.
This is a film of few words yet deep pure emotion and stunning rural vistas --- a must view for anyone who longs for the ways things might have been.