Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Tami Smith, Guest Reviewer for Shockya.
Director: Zhang Yimou
Screenwriter: Zou Jingzhi, Based on The Criminal Lu Yanshi by Yan Geling
Cast: Chen Daoming, Gong Li, Zhang Huiwen, Guo Tao, Liu Peiqi, Zu Deng, Xin Baiqing, Zhang Jiayi, Chen Xiaoyi
Opens: September 11, 2015
The Cultural Revolution took place in China from 1966 until 1976. One of its main purposes was to preserve the Communist ideology by purging capitalists from the Chinese society. China’s youth formed the Red Guard and many people were persecuted by public humiliation, imprisonment and harassment. These events provided the background to Yan Geling’s novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi. Screenwriter: Zou Jingzhi created Coming Home or The Return based on the novel.
Most of Coming Home takes place in the modest apartment of Feng Wanyu (Gong Li) addressed by people as Teacher. Though Feng Wanyu is married to Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) and they have a daughter Dandan (Zhang Huiwen) this is no ordinary family. Feng Wanyu has not seen her husband for ten years and his daughter does not know him since he became a political prisoner, courtesy of the Chinese government. Lu Yanshi’s attempt to escape the camp ends with a recapture and a prolonged prison stay. Lu is finally released, comes home but finds that his wife is suffering from amnesia thus not recognizing him. His role now changes from that of a loving husband to a letter reader, trying to remind Feng Wanyu that they once had a shared life together. Feng Wanyu meanwhile still waits for her husband’s return from prison and will go dutifully to the train station every month, with a welcome painted sign held up high.
Director Zhang Yimou succeeds in showing us the grey and dull life of the Chinese population during the Cultural Revolution, where every step a citizen takes is controlled by the party. Young Dandan’s ballet career is cut short because her father is a political prisoner. Her desire to appear in a military ballet overwhelms her family loyalty and she becomes a collaborator informing the government on her father’s whereabouts.
Acting in Coming Home is first rate. Gong Li is as reliable as ever portraying a woman looking forward for her husband’s return as she ages throughout the years. Chen Daoming plays Lu Yanshi in an understated fashion, yet affectively shows us a husband who lost his family twice: once upon his arrest and a second time upon his return. Zhang Huiwen gives a fresh performance in the role of Dandan, once a promising ballet dancer, her carrier is cut short by her father’s incarceration.
Excellent lensing is provided by Zhao Xiaoding, using grey and brown colors to show the drabness and sameness of life in China during the Cultural Revolution to be highlighted by an interesting military ballet filled with reds and blues. Makeup done by designer Greg Cannom conveys the passage of time, showing us the main players aging throughout the years.
Rated PG-13. 111 minutes. © Tami Smith, Guest Reviewer