Film Review: “Coming Home” (‘歸來’)

Coming Home

Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Gong Li (Feng Wanyu), Chen Daoming (Lu Yanshi) and Zhang Huiwen (Dandan)

Rating: 78%

A criminal on the run. A wife told to turn him in. It would have been a crime drama anywhere else. Only in Coming Home, the crime is being an enemy of the Chinese Communist Party. And the drama is set during the Cultural Revolution, the political inferno which engulfed China from 1966 to 1976.

The Cultural Revolution has spawned its own genre of cinema including the epic Farewell My Concubine and the devastating Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl. In contrast to those works, Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home is not an angry rebuke at what went wrong, but an elegy of how the Cultural Revolution affects a couple Lu and Feng and their daughter, Dandan, in a provincial town.

Coming Home however falls short of Zhang’s previous work and of films on the Cultural Revolution thanks to its soap-opera treatment replete with endless background music, jarring camera close-ups and even tears which seem carefully choreographed.

The tragedy of the Cultural Revolution is thankfully revealed through the brilliant performances of Li, Chen and Zhang. Lu is a convicted counterrevolutionary who has escaped from a labour camp. Feng and Dandan are summoned in by the police to tell what they know. Desiring the lead role in a revolutionary ballet, Dandan chillingly proclaims her obedience to the party’s commands to turn in Lu.

The tragedy of Coming Home does not sink in until after the film finishes. For all its melodrama, Coming Home is a poignant tale of humanity losing its way and trying to find it again, thanks to the masterful performances of its lead actors.

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Filed under China, Films

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