Taxi Com­ing Home

COM­ING HOME, drama, rated PG-13, in Man­darin with sub­ti­tles, Vi­o­let Crown, 3.5 chiles

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Zhang Yi­mou and his muse and lead­ing lady, Gong Li, have col­lab­o­rated on some of the most im­por­tant films to come out of China over the past three decades. Be­gin­ning in 1987 with Red Sorghum, in which Gong made her screen de­but, their col­lab­o­ra­tions have in­cluded Ju Dou (1990), Raise

the Red Lantern (1991), The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), and To Live (1994). For years they were ro­man­ti­cally in­volved as well. Then there was a pe­riod of es­trange­ment, which a re­cent tell-all bi­og­ra­phy of the di­rec­tor (Fate: Zhang

Yi­mou the Lonely) by his long­time script con­sul­tant Zhou Xiaofeng lays at the con­niv­ing feet of Zhang Weip­ing, Zhang Yi­mou’s former pro­ducer.

Di­rec­tor and star are tri­umphantly re­united in Com­ing Home, a heart­break­ing story of lost love, de­spite the fact that the lovers are to­gether and long­ing for each other through much of it. The cul­prit? Am­ne­sia. It be­gins dur­ing the Chi­nese Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion, that orgy of Com­mu­nist po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness that gripped the coun­try for about a decade start­ing in the mid-’60s. Feng Wanyu (Gong), a teacher, lives with her teenage daugh­ter Dan Dan (Zhang Hui­wen), an as­pir­ing dancer. The hus­band and fa­ther Lu Yan­shi (Chen Daom­ing) has been away for 10 years in pri­son, pre­sum­ably for a po­lit­i­cal of­fense.

Lu es­capes. Party of­fi­cials warn Feng to re­port to them if he con­tacts her. But when he tries to ar­range a meet­ing, she goes, only to be be­trayed by her daugh­ter, who barely re­mem­bers her fa­ther and doesn’t want to jeop­ar­dize her dance ca­reer. In the melee at their ren­dezvous, staged by Zhang with chaotic bril­liance at the rail­road sta­tion, Feng suf­fers a blow to the head. Lu is re­cap­tured.

Years pass. The Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion ends, and Lu is re­leased. He re­turns home. But Feng, who goes faith­fully to the sta­tion with a sign to meet her hus­band each time she expects him to ar­rive, doesn’t rec­og­nize the man she loves.

More years pass. Lu tries re­peat­edly, and with a va­ri­ety of ploys, to break through Feng’s bizarre am­ne­sia. Even the lo­cal party of­fi­cials try to per­suade her that this man is Lu. She won’t be­lieve it. Lu en­lists the aid of Dan Dan, whose dance ca­reer has foundered any­way, no doubt be­cause of the pall cast over her by her fa­ther’s sit­u­a­tion.

The tar­get of Com­ing Home is the per­sonal and cul­tural dev­as­ta­tion wrought on China by the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion. In struc­ture and style, it’s melo­drama, rem­i­nis­cent of emo­tional Dou­glas Sirk ex­trav­a­gan­zas like

Mag­nif­i­cent Ob­ses­sion, with Gong in a role you can eas­ily imag­ine Bette Davis do­ing in the ’30s. But she plays it with an un­self­con­scious lack of glam­our and a low-key, gen­tle wist­ful­ness that keep the film grounded and poignant. — Jonathan Richards

Dig­ging through the past: Chen Daom­ing and Gong Li

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