Gong shines in tragic tale
COMING HOME (PG)
Drama/111 minutes/Opens today
During China's Cultural Revolution, Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) was sent away to a labour camp as a political prisoner. He finally returns home when it ends in 1976, only to find that things have changed at home.
His wife, Feng Wanyu (Gong Li), blames daughter Dandan (Zhang Huiwen) for Lu's recapture after an escape attempt and, more devastatingly, no longer recognises him. He tries ways and means to rekindle her memories of him.
Based on the novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi by Yan Geling.
IT IS a homecoming in more ways than one.
Coming Home reunites director Zhang Yimou and actress Gong Li - they last worked together on the opulent period piece Curse Of The Golden Flower (2006).
In spirit, though, it is closer to the earlier collaborations between the two in gritty dramas such as Red Sorghum (1987), The Story Of Qiu Ju (1992) and To Live (1994); films which paint compelling pictures of China's society, with Gong as the charismatic centre in each offering.
And, once again, Zhang draws out a fine performance from his frequent leading lady.
Gong is the most restrained she has ever been, going for quiet naturalism and pulling her punches in a situation ripe for overacting.
Watch how she reacts when her husband returns home and they meet again for the first time in years, her blankly polite behaviour a contrast to his barely constrained joy, which turns to puzzlement and, then, sorrow.
She is matched by award-winning veteran Chen Daoming (Hero, 2002), who is unrecognisable when he first appears as an escaped prisoner buried beneath a layer of grime.
Later, when he realises that Feng no longer recognises him, he sets about trying to jog her memory, from posing as a piano tuner to reading his old letters to her.
It is another tragedy of a family torn apart by the madness of the Cultural Revolution.
And, while the film does not dwell on it, there are chilling glimpses of its horrors from the poor letter-writing conditions Lu endured, to the terrible fate that befalls Feng.
Although a bit slow-moving at times, this tale of love and sacrifice is genuinely moving and its emotive power builds up gradually.
After a string of big-budget martial arts epics such as Hero, House Of Flying Daggers (2004) and Golden Flower, Zhang proves that you can go home again.