Middle age Teacher Feng Wanyu or Yu (Li Gong) and daughter Dan Dan, (Huiwen Zhang), a rising star at the Ballet Academy, are advised by party officials that Yu’s husband Lu Yanshi (or Lu) a “Rightist” enemy of the state, has escaped from enforced re-education (Forced Labor camp). They are warned they must not meet with him, and must turn him in for the sake of Party loyalty.
Dan Dan vows Party loyalty, Yu says nothing, her trembling lip betraying her loyalty to her husband, a cultural ideal before the Gang Of Four’s Cultural Revolution.
Professor Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming,“Back to 1942”), a sophisticate who was educated abroad, was branded a rightist and sent away for “re-education”. His young daughter Dan Dan barely remembers him, and his wife, Middle School teacher Yu suppresses her longing for him to survive in the Party controlled Shanghai, where she brings up their daughter alone.
The Sony Classics release grossed nearly $19.6 million in it’s opening five days in China.
Lovely Dan Dan, whose extensions are positively Flamingo like, is the best dancer in her Ballet Academy. ” All she wants to do is dance the lead in the iconic” Red Detachment Of Women”, the Cultural Revolution’s one-hit wonder, and she would have too, if the Party hadn’t given it to a less talented but ideologically un-tainted dancer.
Indoctrinated Dan Dan wants the lead bad enough to let Party Officials bully her into betraying her father (and mother) in order to get the part, which she doesn’t get, by the way.
Her mother doesn’t forgive Dan Dan for that betrayal. When she loses her marbles from a cocktail of malnutrition, rape and posttraumatic shock, Yu can’t even look for her husband’s face in her photos. Resentful, Party-pleasing Dan Dan’s cut him out of every one.
Twenty years pass before the family is reunited. A victim of a head injury sustained when Lu was re-arrested, Yu doesn’t recognize the husband she waits for every month at the station, and faithful, patient Lu plays the role of different strangers in her life, in order to stay close and protect her.
Chinese Vet master Yimou Zhang’s “Coming Home” (“Gui lai”), not to be confused with Hal Ashby’s 1978 Vietnam Vet romance “Coming Home”, is based on the novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi by Chinese American author Geling Yan. The novel was based on letters Yan’s grandfather wrote home, when he was in Labor Camp, Zhang and writer Jingzhi Zou’s story adapts the last third of the novel. Zou also scripted “The Grandmaster.”
The tragic romance melds Alzheimers with the Cultural Revolution. It’s a stately period piece, and Jingzhi Zou’s screenplay wears it’s sentimentality gracefully. The literal translation of the Chinese title “Gui lai” is “The Return.”
Zhang’s graceful, seemingly artless style is suited to the character piece, and he renders every ounce of fat out of his remarkable close ups, allowing his actors to act in a supportive habitat.
Zhang’s sequence of Lu’s sneaking into his apartment house to reunite with his family is a complex staging worthy of a Noir, and the train station betrayal and capture is pure big screen 60’s thriller.
Li Gong, devoid of makeup, holds the stage. Her opening scenes are effective, but for much of the first half I was unaffected. For a Star to play sans makeup, letting her age show, is, of course, a brave stunt; for that reason I was expecting more. I felt her effort-ing, I often had that reaction to Liv Ullman’s performances; In my day, a heretical remark.
A turning point in the performance was the scene where Lu contrives to jog her memory playing piano. Drawn by the music Yu senses it’s him, although her eyes don’t recognize him. As they awkwardly hug, her performance kicks in and from that moment on I saw the performance others’ dote on.
Zhang’s prolific body of work includes the classics “Red Sorghum”, “Raise the Red Lantern”, “Hero”, House of Flying Daggers”, and “The Road Home.”
“Red Sorghum marked both Zhang and Li Gong debut films, well known internationally but banned in Mainland China.
Daoming Chen, as the returnee Lu Yanshi, is all organic banked fires. He’s powerful as the tender man willing to try anything to jog his wife’s protective memory.
Beautiful ballerina, novice actress Huiwen Zhang plays the resentful headstrong Dan Dan. Production standards are outstanding
Popular actors Guo Tao and Yan Ni cameo as an hard core Party Official Officer Liu and humanist District Party leader Officer Li respectively.
Qigang Chen’s score borrows heaviiy from Revolutionary-era symphonies. Shot in Tianjin and Beijing, Xiaoding Zhao’s cinematography captures a suitably drab Cultural Revolutionary China.
Produced by William Kong (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers”), executive producer David Linde (“Biutiful”, “Y Tu Mamá También” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and Zhao Zhang.
Mr. Zhang’s next project is a Hollywood movie shot in Englsh. “Coming Home” opens in New York and LA on September 9Th