Red Detachment of Women

Coming Home

Coming Home

Director: Zhang Yimou

Cast: Gong Li, Chen Daoming, Zhang Huiwen

Another film set during and after the Cultural Revolution is Coming Home, the latest film by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou who brought such classics as Raise the Red Lantern and the more commercially accessible The Flowers of War.

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Coming Home as seen at the 36th Durban International Film Festival DIFF is a quiet and intimate film focusing on a Chinese couple, Lu Yanshi played by Chen Daoming and Feng Wanyu superbly played by Gong Li who are forced to separate after their only daughter, an aspiring ballerina Dan Dan played by Zhang Huiwen reports her father to the Communist authorities and he in turns is sent away as a political prisoner.

After a disruptive farewell at the local train station, Lu Yanshi and Feng Wanyu do not see each other for years and when Yanshi returns to his home, he finds that his wife does not recognize him due to psychological amnesia caused by a traumatic event.

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After the flourish of earlier films like Raise the Red Lantern, The House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower Zhang Yimou rather chooses to focus on the broken relationship of a husband and wife whose love for each other is brutally torn apart by the restrictive society they live and as fate occurs, this love cannot be resurrected despite Lu Yanshi’s attempts at reconciliation and his own careful methods of reawakening his wife’s lost memory, mainly through the use of old photos and an abundance of letters.

At 109 minutes, Coming Home is a slightly drawn out film in Mandarin with English subtitles, which could have done with some editing, however the central narrative is held together by Gong Li’s brilliant portrayal of a woman whose own memory has betrayed her, leaving her bewildered and confused, yet always clinging to a hope that one day her family will be reconciled.

Unlike Zhang Yimou’s previous films such as The Flowers of War and Curse of the Golden Flower, Coming Home lacks flourish and spectacle but is beautifully filmed and held together by some magnificent acting especially by Gong Li, who does for Chinese cinema what Oscar winner Julianne Moore did for American cinema in Still Alice.

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