Although Chen Daoming (rightly) has top billing, of course it is the reunion of Zhang with long-time muse Gong that captured attention. Yet Coming Home is far from a one-woman show. It is Chinese cinema's toughest gig to even be noticed when appearing beside La Gong, yet the two other leads manage the task with conviction and even brilliance.
Reviewer Score: 9
Daoming is riveting as the disgraced professor returning from countryside rehabilitation, while Zhang Huiwen is given every chance to shine in a stunning debut as the young woman who reported her father.
The opening scene brilliantly sets the scene firmly during the Cultural Revolution. A troupe of teen ballerinas are auditioning for one of Jiang Qing's preposterous epics of military heroism. A fellow audience member confirmed the settings for the movie were spot-on. The rusted, clunky and out-dated train station, the street poverty, the dilapidated apartments, the party members - all rang true.
Although the portrayal of the period and the aftermath are realistic, the full horror of Mao's madness is of course glossed over. Daoming's returning professor shrugs off Dandan's confession (that it was she who informed on him) as his own fault, and his years or 're-education' in the countryside as a cause for personal apology for causing trouble.
The teeming millions of Chinese whose lives were ruined may well join informed Westerners in outrage at such blatant apologism. Yet Coming Home could not have been made without Beijing's approval, and it remains one of a small handful of major films that even address the period. Progress ? We can only hope.
Certainly the film is overwhelmingly sentimental, but I believe this was the correct way to play it. Though the pace is mostly gentle, Coming Home is gripping from start to finish. Unmissable.