Coming Home (2014) (Gui lai)


Cast includes: Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern), Chen Daoming (Hero), Zhang Huiwen
Director: Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern)
Genre: Drama | Romance (109 minutes) Chinese with subtitles


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1973, China… looking through the wheels of a speeding train, we see a man huddled on the edge of the tracks. It’s a sharp contrast to the next scene… rehearsals of the ballet, “The Red Detachment of Women,” a Cultural Revolution favorite. At this point, Dandan has a good chance of winning the leading role, but she’s suddenly called out. Dandan and her mom, Teacher Yu, are called into the administrator’s office. “Have you heard what’s happened with Lu?” Apparently, Lu, Teacher Yu’s husband, has escaped. He was seen near the railroad. Yu hasn’t heard from him in 10 years. “You know, it is strictly forbidden to make contact with a political prisoner, don’t you?” Dandan readily agrees, but we can see that her mom is hesitant. “Withholding information is a crime,” they remind Yu.

“You mustn’t see him,” Dandan tells her mom when they get home. It’s easy for Dandan to say… she barely knew her father. Her life is going well and she thinks she has a good chance of getting picked for the leading role in the dance academy’s production… assuming her mom and dad don’t mess things up. In the meantime, the man we saw earlier by the railroad is outside in the pouring rain, watching Yu and Dandan’s building. When Dandan is out the next day, Lu evades detection and enters the drab gray building. He quietly knocks on Lu’s door. She knows it’s Lu but she’s frozen and can’t open. Before Lu leaves, he rips a corner off a red banner and writes Yu a note asking her to meet him at the train station tomorrow morning at 8:00. What happens the next day goes very badly, and Lu is recaptured. Yu is thrown to the ground and injured. In the meantime, the dance academy does not choose Dandan for the lead, even though she is clearly the best dancer.

Several years later, when the Cultural Revolution ends and Lu can return home, it should be a happy occasion. But in the years since the heartbreaking scene at the railroad station, Yu has been in a prison of her own mind. Some call it psychological amnesia. Some think her head injury started it. Yu doesn’t recognize the husband she’s still deeply in love with. Coming Home is a throwback to some of the wonderful artistic Chinese films of the 1990s. That’s partly because several of the most outstanding examples were from the same director, Yimou Zhang, also stared Gong Li. For some moviegoers, these films are too slow. Indeed, they all have meticulously gorgeous cinematography, with every scene a work of art. Coming Home takes place during one of the most drab and austere moments in recent Chinese history, and with the exception of a bit of red, there is hardly a scene that isn’t gray and soot stained. As the story develops, we lower our expectations to match the color palette. Only then do we begin to see the glimmers of beauty in this sad story. Yu’s doctor feels there’s not much more he can do for Yu, but he’s heard of a treatment that involves Déjà vu… using past memories to trigger present day connections. It doesn’t exactly work out the way Lu had hoped, but given the tragedies of the last 20 years, it’s a coming home of sorts.

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

Off her meds, a bipolar woman buys herself a TV show about herself

Popcorn Profile

Rated: PG-13
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Art House
Mood: Sober
Tempo: In No Hurry
Visual Style: High-End Production 
Nutshell: China’s cultural revolution
Language: True to life

Social Significance: Thought Provoking

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