Coming Home

by Charles Nash

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 11, 2015

Li Gong stars in 'Coming Home'
Li Gong stars in 'Coming Home'  (Source:Sony Pictures Classics)

An old-fashioned melodrama that's guaranteed to put a lump in your throat, Zhang Yimou's "Coming Home" (no relation to the Academy Award-winning 1978 film by Hal Ashby) is a lovely and deeply moving example of the genre, centered on a fictional family during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Li Gong stars as Feng Wanyu, a teacher whose husband, Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), was a former professor before being sent to a labor camp for his "rightist" traditionalism. When Feng Wanyu and her daughter, Dan Dan (Huiwen Zhang) are told by the city's deputy that Lu Yanshi has escaped, they are instructed to inform the government of his whereabouts should he come into contact with them.

It's clear from the get-go that Feng Wanyu longs to see her estranged husband, but Dan Dan has grown up in a propagandist time within her country, and, because she hasn't seen her father since the age of three, feels differently in regards to her priorities rifting between family and state.

Other reviews, and even synopses on various websites, reveal much more of the plot than I've decided to unveil, but to go into further detail would spoil a majority of the first 45 minutes. There's so much rich complexity in the human drama, and it's so elegantly paced, that I feel I would be doing readers interested in seeking the film out a disservice as a result.

Adapted from the novel "The Criminal Lu Yanshi" by Geling Yan, Zhang Yimou's latest film isn't as visually stunning as his previous efforts, which include "Hero" (2002) and "House of Flying Daggers" (2004), but the somewhat restrained color palette of the cinematography allows us to focus on the film's nuanced performances. Li Gong, in particular, is devastatingly good; she will break your heart merely through a look in her eyes.

Though you'll have to suspend some disbelief in more ways than one, "Coming Home" is an intelligent, culturally provocative weepie of how one family is destroyed by the corruption of their home country during the 1960s. I was on the verge of tears for the majority of its runtime, and if you're a softie like me, it's guaranteed to yank your heartstrings in all the right ways.