Coming Home

If you have forgotten what pure heartbreak feels like, director Zhang Yimou has come to remind you.

In his latest effort, the director of lavish spectacles like HERO and THE HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS has gone low-key, and crafted an achingly beautiful story about love, longing, and redemption.

COMING HOME is the story of Yu (Gong Li) and Lu (Chen Daoming). The two are estranged lovers, and parents to a teenage dance student named Dandan (Zhang Huiwen). However, around the time Dandan is born, Lu is convicted of betraying the Chinese state during The Cultural Revolution and interred for “re-education”. Around eighteen years into his sentence, Lu escapes and seems to be headed back to reunite with Yu. His attempt is almost successful, to the point that he and Yu are on opposite sides of the same door. However, the attempt is ultimately thwarted, in part due to Dandan’s betrayal of her estranged father to the authorities.

Three years later, The Cultural Revolution ends and Lu is a free man…but in the grand scheme of putting his life back together, freedom has become the easy part.

This film is a masterwork, and one where I am deliberately omitting details. Early on, we bear witness to a scene that could be used to teach the art of editing. Later, as if to spoil us with riches we are given a second such scene. The movie uses nuance and subtlety to create scenes of tremendous tension, and deep poignancy. On a surface level, its title suggests the journey one takes to get back to the physical place they feel the most safe. In truth, the title wants us to understand that home is a place in our hearts, and that finding our way back there in the eyes of another can be wildly challenging.

The thing is, “home” is a place we all would do anything to find our way to. It is a place of pure love and the greatest safety. It reminds us that love is unselfish, and sometimes means taking it on the chin in the name of those we care about most. We think sometimes that we would crawl through Hell itself to return to the ones who love us most. What we don’t realize is that once we find them, a whole new Hell might await, and at that moment it’s up to us show them what true love means.

COMING HOME steps lightly as it makes its journey, but the steps it takes are perfectly placed. It asks each of us how far we would go – especially when the mission seems lost. Coming into this film, I regret to say I had underestimated what Zhang Yimou might be able to achieve without his usual visual trickery. I can promise you I will never make that mistake again.

If nothing else, I will be hard-pressed to forget the Saturday morning I stared at a movie screen and repeated pleaded “…remember…remember…” under my breath.