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Yusheng's (Sun Honglei) father has just died, which prompts him to
return to his hometown - a small and poor rural village in the middle of
nowhere China - to look after his mother (Zhao Yulian). His mother has
meanwhile urged the village's mayor to have her husband, who had been the
village teacher for more than 40 years, carried home just like a forgotten
tradition demands, but the mayor has to decline simply due to the lack of
manpower or village funds to finance manpower.
Yusheng now tries to dissuade his mother from her demands, but instead
she tells him the story about how she - a girl not yet 20 (and played by
Zhang Ziyi) - met her father (Zheng Hao), who came to the village as a new
teacher, and immediately fell in love with him ... but it took her forever
to get to know him and to show him her affection - and when she finally
succeeds and realizes he likes her back, he has to go back to the city,
allegedly because he was mixed up in something. Mum got gravely ill and
did not get better until one day (and without explanation) dad came back,
and she never again left his side.
Yusheng is to touched by his mother's story that he agrees to finance
the funeral procession out of his own pocket - but when it's time to pay,
he realizes that those who provided the manpower at the procession were
all his dad's students who came back to the village to pay their respect
to their teacher and thus don't want any sort of payment.
Touched, Yusheng donates the money to a fund proposed to finance a new
school and (even if only for one day) takes over teaching of the village
youth himself ...
A quiet and sentimental film that often only just stays clear of being
cheesy on one hand and that eventually becomes a bit boring on the other
hand. On the plus side, Zhang Yimou still is a capable enough director to
save this film from being totally pointless - even if the fim is far fom
his best -, and Zhang Ziyi in an early role (this was not her first film as
many sources claim but the first that introduced her to an international
[arthouse-]audience) already proves great talent