Magazine article Variety

Zhang, Gong Make a Moving Return

Magazine article Variety

Zhang, Gong Make a Moving Return

Article excerpt

Filmmaking doesn't get more traditional or timeless than Chinese master Zhang Yimou's "Coming Home," a family drama of guilt, love and reconciliation set during the after-math of the Cultural Revolution. Heart-breaking in its depiction of ordinary lives affected by political upheaval, this ode to the fundamental values that survive under such circumstances has an epic gravity that recalls "Doctor Zhivago." While younger viewers may find Zhang's classical style and grungy period backdrop too unfashionable to engage, the film's rich melodramatic thrust has opened the floodgates for domestic audiences, grossing nearly $19.6 million in five days. Sony Classics will release the film Stateside.

It's China in the early '70s. Middle-school teacher Feng Wanyu (frequent collaborator Gong Li) is married to college professor Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), who was branded a rightist and sent away for "re-education." Her teenage daughter, Dandan (newcomer Zhang Huiwen), who's grown up with no memories of her father, is a promising ballet dancer. One day, mother and daughter receive news of Lu's escape; they're warned by district party officials to report him if they see him. Lu sneaks back home and runs into Dandan, who, hankering after the role of first ballerina, becomes a party spy and turns her father in.

The story proper begins after the end of the Cultural Revolution years later, when Lu is exonerated and discharged from a labor camp in the northwest. He returns to find Feng suffering from amnesia, probably caused by a head injury on the day of his re-arrest. With the assistance of Dandan, Lu tries every way he can to make Feng recognize him. As Lu and Feng undergo their own rehabilitation, the couple's romantic history is partly resuscitated through remembrances of the past - an old photo, unsent letters, a piano tune he plays. Feng's fractured memory holds unimaginable pain, culminating in the disclosure of a terrible sacrifice she made in exchange for Lu's safety.

Chen Qigang's score is unabashedly sentimental, accentuating Lu's hopes and disappointments with each attempt to jog Feng's memory, like the rise and fall of musical movements. Although the protags' devotion to each other takes opposing forms - one dwells in the past, while the other tries to undo it - they both exemplify enduring love and loyalty.

The social context of Lu and Feng's relationship may seem dated to some contempo audiences, but the course of Dandan's fall and redemption is particularly relevant to China's current one-child generation. …

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