Director Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) has returned to his dramatic roots in Coming Home <歸來>, which opens in China on May 16. Taking a detour from his signature film-making style, Zhang presents a tale of love, loss, and reunion from a calm and unfiltered perspective. Zhang recently spoke about his latest work and the unique message he hopes to convey.
Although Coming Home is based on author Yan Geling‘s (嚴歌苓) novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi <陸犯焉識>, the screenplay draws its material from only the last twenty pages of the original novel. The film is set during China’s Cultural Revolution period, and focuses on the reunion between Lu Yanshi (played by Chen Daoming 陳道明) and his wife Feng Wanyu (played by Gong Li 鞏俐). Lu Yanshi was an intellectual who was sentenced to work on a prison farm. After an unsuccessful reunion attempt with his family, he went into exile until he was granted political rehabilitation, his crimes absolved. Upon his return however, he discovers that his wife was struck by illness and has lost her memories. The film focuses on his attempts to restore her memories and the couple’s simple companionship in their old days.
Different from Zhang’s typical colorful and artistic creations, Coming Home struts along with a slow pace that reflects the blandness of everyday life. Focusing on the feelings and thoughts of its characters, the movie relies heavily on facial expressions and simple gestures to move its plot.
To successfully create such an emotionally-driven film, Zhang credits industry veterans Gong Li and Chen Daoming for lending their unparalleled acting talent. Working together since the start of their careers, the three have become close friends and share a deep understanding of each others’ thoughts and styles. When asked about his favorite scene, Zhang described a part of the film where Lu softly played the piano in hopes of evoking his wife’s memories. He praised his two stars for perfectly capturing the sentiments of the moment even though no word was spoken, and called that internal exchange the essence of traditional Chinese film-making.
Zhang also commends newcomer Zhang Huiwen (張慧雯), who plays the couple’s daughter Dan Dan, for adding a bit of spunk to the story. An unknown 21-year-old plucked straight from performing arts school, Huiwen is the latest addition to the prestigious list of Mou Girls and so far seems to live up to her title. Playing an aspiring ballerina determined to land the coveted lead spot in patriotic ballet Red Detachment of Women, Huiwen was Director Zhang’s top choice because her large eyes give off the sort of strength and discipline that define the Red Guards.
Revisiting the solemn dramatic genre known as wen yi films after several commercial hits, Director Zhang feels that the project was challenging despite his previous experiences. He pointed out that while it is easy to overlook melodramatic elements in commercial film, it is difficult to keep the mainstream feel out of a proper wen yi movie.
“Coming Home” Trailer
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This article is written by Katrine for JayneStars.com.