Saturday, June 13, 2009

Guest Post: ‘Go Out and Party Like It’s 1999,’ An Outdated Movie Review

Saturday, June 13, 2009

When Tyler asked me to contribute to his blog I was simultaneously flattered and terrified: flattered that he thinks enough of my opinions to include them, terrified that I might be incapable of saying anything interesting to anyone but me. I must admit, I am rarely up-to-date on any subject, entertainment being no exception. I try to read current books but have a hard time finding anything that interests me, so I generally wait for recommendations from friends who stay on top of things; I’m better about webcomics.

I do watch some currently-airing TV shows, but as I usually watch them on in between nursing sessions with my three-month-old daughter, even there I am perpetually a few steps behind the rest of the world. The only show I watch religiously as it airs is Craig Ferguson (which Tyler covers more than amply already), and even that will be taken from me with the grand ‘switch to digital’ (I own a digital TV but our apartment complex doesn’t get good reception); I will be reduced to desperately scouring Youtube for clips. Oh, the degredation. All this is by way of saying that I am not going to write about anything new, because I almost never find out about anything new until it is no longer new to anyone but me. I also hate writing reviews.

Anyway, my husband and I have a Netflix account (I could spend an entire post extolling Netflix, but I won’t) and I have decided that this summer is all about Asian cinema. Let me pause for a moment here to allow for snide comments from the peanut gallery regarding manga/manwha, anime, crazy Japanese porn and/or pop music. Take it away, JH and K.



Okay. Instead of going in all directions, let’s talk Zhang Yimou. Most everybody has seen ‘Hero,’ ‘House of Flying Daggers,’ and ‘Curse of the Golden Flower,’ but before you go lumping all of this man’s films into one big ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ lump, let me point out that first of all, Ang Lee directed that movie, and second that there is much more to Zhang’s film repertoire than (admittedly awesome) fighting. I haven’t watched everything yet (my queue on Netflix has about 250 movies of all kinds in quite a jumbled order), but I’ve seen enough to form an opinon, and that opinion is: get off your ass and rent ‘The Road Home.

I liked ‘Shanghai Triad’ pretty well (I think this film was a let-down for me on account of thirteen years’ worth of anticipation; I remember seeing a preview for it when I was about 10 years old and being fascinated by Gong Li), and enjoyed ‘The Story of Qiu Ju’ very much (I recommend it as well), but this movie blew me away. I haven’t read any critics’ reviews of it, and I don’t have to. I don’t need Roger Ebert to tell me that I ought to like this movie because the style and the cinematography and political undertones are blah, blah, blah… I’m not a film snob. I don’t know about film-snobbish things, and I don’t really care about them. I appreciate shit blowing up as much as the next person. I simply enjoy a good story, and I am more than willing to put up with subtitles if I’m going to get one. (Even if you can’t stand subtitles, this one is worth the pain.) I don’t even know how to begin to write a review of this that will convince you to watch this movie, but here goes:

The Road Home’ (1999) is very simple, very tender (not saccharine), and almost reverent story. What is it about? It begins and ends with views of a road, and the title includes the word ‘road,’ so I think one can safely assume that this film is about a road—a very specific Road, in fact, one which leads to a tiny Chinese village. There are two overlapping storylines in the film, one present, one past. The present, filmed in black-and-white, is this: a man’s father has died so he returns to his hometown, where he learns that his stubborn, grieving mother wishes that her husband, the village schoolteacher for forty years, be honored with an old, outdated custom: that his casket be carried by the men of the village down the well-worn road to his place of burial while his friends shout out to him; in this way his spirit might always be able to find its way home. This presents a problem for a village short on men, especially considering that the story takes place in winter in an especially harsh climate. While attempting to find a solution to this problem, the narrator tells, in vivid color, the story of the past and of his parents’ courtship: a love that takes place along that same road, a love beginning when the then-young schoolteacher follows it to an unfamiliar village where a beautiful girl in pigtail braids and a red coat sees him for the first time, a love growing as she shyly follows him down it, day after day, from a distance when he walks his students home, as she finally, in a moment of sheer feminine wilyness, ‘accidentally’ leaves the basket behind for him to pick up and return to her, a love tested when he is called away and she first chases him down it and then waits for him along it, a love fulfilled when he returns to her faithfully as promised. The end of the movie returns to the present, but I won’t spoil that for you. It’s not a shocking plot-twister, but it is better seen than told about.

I was surprised by this movie. It’s not fast-paced, and large periods have little-to-no dialogue, but it doesn’t drag at all—I never even once looked at the clock (this happens to me a lot when watching movies that bore me). The romance isn’t very exciting, but is moving nonetheless. It feels genuine. I think actually that might be a good word to describe the whole movie: it’s genuine, very heartfelt, (again) very reverent. I actually sat down and watched it again, which I never do except with ‘Strictly Ballroom.’ I read that this was Zhang Ziyi’s first movie—that, too, was surprising. She is excellent... and whatever magic Zhang Yimou employs to film as beautifully as he does is well worth it; everything is gorgeous. The movie is gorgeous. If I haven’t convinced you to go see this movie yet, then I will instead command you: go forth and watch ‘The Road Home. I don’t know yet if it’s Zhang Yimou’s best film since I haven’t seen them all, but I’ve definitely marked it on my list of favorite movies.


Tyler Awesome Coolage said...

Wow. Where do I begin? Why was I not a part of this Kung Fu marathon? This Road Home business sounds very good; you wouldn't by chance still have it, would you?

Oh, and I'm all for "outdated" reviews. Most of the pop culture stuff I enjoy is already old by the time I get to experience it. So let the snobs be snobby, and let's enjoy 1999!

Anonymous said...

You CAN be a part of the Kung Fu Marathon, if you like, though you've already missed out on Five Deadly Venoms (which was awesome).
I actually sent it back already, and just (as in, not five minutes ago) finished watching the next Zhang Yimou movie on my list, 'Raise the Red Lantern.' Dark, man. Dark.

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