Coming Home Parent Review
While the language barrier may make this movie appear less accessible to some, it really is worth the extra effort.
Someone once said, “Love is a verb,” meaning the real definition of the word is evidenced by the actions of those who claim to feel the emotion. And such demonstration is certainly seen in the film Coming Home (original title, Gui lai).
Set in China during the Cultural Revolution, Yu (Li Gong, whose character is called Feng in film’s promotional materials) and her daughter Dandan (Huiwen Zhang) have not seen their husband and father Lu (Daoming Chen) since he was sent to a labor camp as a political prisoner more than a decade ago. When the authorities inform the pair that the man has escaped, Dandan’s youthful loyalty to The Party makes it easy for her to agree to have no contact with him if he should happen to show up in their neighborhood. But Yu, who has more reserved feelings about the Communists, is reluctant to comply.
Dandan was only three when her father was taken away, but she is quick to guess the identify of the fugitive when she finds him hiding in their apartment building. Although she is determined to thwart Lu’s attempts to see her mother, Yu learns of his presence and is determined to see her husband again. Sadly the desired rendezvous between the desperate husband and the devoted wife ends with Lu being recaptured and Yu suffering a bloody head injury.
A few years later, changes in the government end the exile of many of those previously seen as enemies of the regime, including Lu. Now the former professor is free to return to his family. Anticipating a sweet homecoming, Lu is unprepared for the bitter changes that have occurred while he has been away. Something has happened to Yu’s memory, and she is unable to recognize her husband when arrives. Yet for all her forgetfulness Yu still has a clear recognition of Dandan’s past faults, and has closed her daughter out of her life.
Even though Lu and Dandan are mostly strangers, the father and daughter find themselves in the same situation: attempting to reclaim a place in Yu’s heart. While the journey is different for each, both paths will test the true depth of the love they have for Yu. The portrayal of the lengths Lu goes to in the hopes of reawakening his wife’s affection are particularly poignant.
If you are hoping Coming Home will help you learn more about this important this moment in China’s history, this Mandarin language film (with English subtitles) may be a disappointment. Director Yimou Zhang, who loosely based his script on a novel by Geling Yan, was careful to adhere to his country’s strict censorship laws, and does not include much background about Chairman Mao or his ideology, nor the hardship endured by those targeted during his leadership. According to a questions and answers session with Zhang that occurred at the Toronto Film Festival (included in the Special Features section of the movie’s Blu-ray release), the goal of the production was to spark discussion between parents and children, so the older generation could share their stories about events which often are shrouded in silence. As the film makes its way into global markets, perhaps Western audiences unfamiliar with this time period will also become more curious.
While the language barrier may make this movie appear less accessible to some, it really is worth the extra effort. Dealing with mature themes, the script is vague in its mentions of abuse, sexual assault and suicide, and brief in its depictions of physical altercations. Instead the film focuses on the healing of a broken family, which includes administering the medicine of forgiveness, sacrifice, commitment, and most importantly, love.Directed by Yimou Zhang. Starring Li Gong, Daoming Chen, Huiwen Zhang. Running time: 109 minutes. Updated April 25, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Coming Home here.
Coming Home Parents Guide
Learn more about China’s Cultural Revolution.
Why does Dandan feel an allegiance to The Party that her mother does not? How does that trust affect the choices Dandan makes? How is she rewarded for her loyalty?
Yu’s devotion to her husband is obvious as she patiently waits for him to return. Yet she doesn’t recognize that Lu is already there. How might this blindness be a metaphor for life, especially as we focus on the future at the expense of appreciating the present?
What kind of sacrifices would you make for someone you loved? Would you be willing to continue to make them if you were unsure your affection would ever be returned? What do you think motivates Lu’s efforts? What resources does he use to reawaken Yu’s memory?
Each of the characters in the film has something or someone they need to forgive. Why is self-blame part of their problem? What events or insights help them let go of the past?