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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Road Home

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.

10 comments:

Sarah Lah said...

Hi Brad,

OMG! You watch chinese films? Do you understand the language or do you read subtitles? =)

Wow your daughter actually made such a comment? I guess we must be careful with the youngsters nowadays! They are way too curious for their age. However, I feel that there are such young, innocent girls out there who desire for their perfect love! (Or puppy love rather =P) When I was working as a relief teacher last time, I used to have a female student who will "stalk" a male whom she had a crush on during recess! How scary is that!

Zhao Di's love for her teacher is indeed very much commendable! However, I think you probably won't see this in Singapore! Singaporean women are MOSTLY practical. (Note: Girls nowadays can't even cook! :P) You might want to read my recent post on Singaporean women which I quoted from STOMP!

Sarah Lah said...
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Brad Blackstone said...
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Brad Blackstone said...

In the film Zhao Di ISN'T the student of Teacher Luo. She's 18 and just happens to live in the isolated village where he has come from the distant city to teach. So this isn't about a teacher-student relationship.

I think the message in the film in not so much about stalking either. It more about a simple attraction, albeit one that evolves into a strong passion and eventually becomes lifelong companionship.

I have no doubt that all things in romance here in Singapore (and the world over, really) are quite different today. But what hasn't changed is the force of that initial animal instinct, I suppose

Sarah Lah said...

Oh! I apologise for my mistake! Yes our animal instinct to go after the person whom we are attracted to still exists. Perhaps we should ask the guys, who are in a relationship, in our class about this! =P

Regina Escobar said...

This story reminds me of the recent summer. How I wish for happy endings...!

I think first loves are always the purest. But after that deepest cut people tend to be scared, be 'rational' and hold back. I have yet to see the movie to be reminded of it!

I think the more we know the more we tend to be cynics. Apparently you have a precocious daughter!

brent hamilton blackstone said...

i realize billie might be just a tad angry but buy some duct tape and tape her to a chair or something just until she's 27, i might just tape em-E. "boys are bad, bad"

shiny_eatsmudpie said...
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shiny_eatsmudpie said...

Hi Brad,

From a scientific point of view, the primary purposes of all living things, including human beings, are to reproduce, maintain the animal diversity and ecological cycle. Hence, i believe the animal instinct is still a part of us. Maybe as we evolve and become more intellectual, self-conscious, conscious of how the society view us and aware of others' and our own emotions, we tend to leave that initial animal instincts behind for fear of being hurt again. Perhaps, all we need is the right person to "unlock" the fears in us.

Chee Siang said...

Hi Brad,

WOW, my parents would have choked upon hearing that kind of comment. Especially from a daughter who is 4 years away.

:)