Set in the 1970's in a small town in the south, director Zhang Jiarui's third movie, "The Road," tells the touching story of Li Chunfen (Zhang Jingchu), a conductor on a country bus. Pretty and full of energy, the young Li is unaware of how attractive she is to the male passengers and even her partner, the bus driver Lao Cui (Fan Wei).
She meets a young intellectual from Shanghai, Liu Fendou, whose scholarly aura and good looks soon steal her heart.
Their relationship quickly develops from ticket exchange to fluid exchange, deemed unacceptable outside of marriage in those heady culturally revolutionary days. Subsequently Liu is packed off for labour reform.
The film then goes on to follow the lives of the two in the tumultuous period and beyond as one tragedy begets another.
Both Zhang Jinchu and Fan Wei have veered dramatically from the roles they normally play, leaving laughter and make up well behind. For this alone The Road warrants viewing.
New kid on the block director, Zhang Jiarui, soundly blows his own trumpet with the grandiose claim that his movie is "an epic to reflect the changes of fate, love and life influenced by the time from the 1960s to the 1990s that an ordinary person had to face."
The Road is an evocative reminder for anyone who lived through those days, but such stories are already a well-worn path and pale into insignificance against Zhang Yimou's "To Live." The Road is worth a look but as usual, don't believe the hype.
(China Daily 02/10/2006 page7)