Actors: Huiwen Zhang, Chen Daoming, Gong Li
Director: Zhang Yimou
Producers: Li Li, Jia Yueting, Jerry Ye, Zhao Yifang, Zhang Zhao
Format: AC-3, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: Mandarin Chinese
Subtitles: French, Portuguese, Spanish, English
Dubbed: Portuguese, Spanish
Audio Description: English
Rated: PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: March 8, 2016
Run Time: 109 minutes
Coming Home carries on the wonderful tradition of melodrama in Chinese cinema, certainly reminiscent of director Zhang Yimou’s early work (Raise the Red Lantern, The Road Home), but even more so of the quiet family dramas made by the legendary Yasujirô Ozu. There are not many surprises within the narrative of Coming Home, but it is a film instead content to the dedication examination of a simple premise. Even while there is a clear representation of a difficult political time in Chinese history, Yimou wisely makes this a film about the personal impact on individuals rather than the larger issues surrounding them.
At the center of the film is a connection in the relationship between Lu (Chen Daoming) and his wife Feng (Gong Li), even if we are given no opportunity to see what this couple looked like when they were together. As the film begins they have already been separated for years, Lu in hiding and eventually sent to a labor camp as a political prisoner. The one moment they are able to see each other is the same that inevitably gets him caught, and it is a brief and frantic encounter without so much as the satisfaction of touch. When Lu is finally released after the Cultural Revolution, he returns home to Feng in a quickly diminishing mental capacity.
The bittersweet element of Feng’s inability to recognize Lu is her simultaneous obsession with his return home. Even as her mind is unable to recognize the man she loves, it is a love so deep that she will not let it go. Lu resigns to the fact that she can’t recognize him after attempts to help her remember, instead forced to find excuses to reinsert himself into her life again. This humble depiction of selfless love is something rarely seen in American studio films these days, at least outside of mediocre Nicholas Sparks adaptations. In other words, we can do better, or we’ll have to rely on independent cinema to fill that gap.
Nearly as important as the relationship between these characters is their daughter, Dan Dan (Zhang Huiwen), whose attitude changes the most of the course of the film. As a young girl she resents her father for the social stigma his reputation has placed on her, and then must face the implications of these early decisions when he returns years later. Again, some of the most crucial sequences in the narrative are left out, which seems to highlight the emotional impact on the characters more than the events themselves.
The Blu-ray release includes a Q&A with Yimou from the Toronto Film Festival, as well as a commentary track with the legendary Chinese director.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 6.5/10