Gui lai (Coming Home) (2014)




Director:     Yimou Zhang.

Starring:     Li Gong (Feng Wanyu), Daoming Chen (Lu Yanshi), Huiwen Zhang (Dan Dan, the daughter), Tao Guo (Officer Liu), Ni Yan (Officer Li), Chun Li (Cui Meifang), Jia-yi Zhang (Doctor Dai), Peiqi Liu (Officer Liu), Jiali Ding (Mr. Fang's wife), Bai Qing Xin (Officer Ballet School), Feng Zu (Officer Deng), Xiaoyi Chen (Gong Suzhen).

a devoted couple are forced to separate when the husband is arrested and sent to a labor camp as a political prisoner during the Cultural Revolution



Spoiler Warning:


A homeless man sleeping near the railway tracks is awakened by a passing train. 

A ballet class practices their routines, complete with rifles, probably for an upcoming show.  Dandan is the lead dancer in the show.  When the practice is over, Dandan is told to go see the director.  She enters the office and sees her mother is sitting across the desk from the director.  Dandan sits beside her mother, whose name is Feng.  The director tells them that something happened to Lu (husband to Feng).  The women want to know what happened to Lu.  The director says that Lu escaped.  He adds:  "That Rightist is a sneaky bastard."  Lu ran off during a prison transfer at a train station not far from here.  Feng says that she has not been in contact with Lu for ten years.  The director explains to the women that they will not meet with Lu and they are supposed to help the authorities to apprehend the escapee. 

Dandan promises: "I have nothing to do with him. I will obey the Party's decisions."  The director is happy with Dandan's response, but now he wants to make sure that Teacher Feng is also in line with the Party. 

The homeless man at the railway station eats raw potatoes.

At home, Dandan tells her mother that she must have no contact with her father.  If she does have contact with him, Dandan might loose what she wants so badly -- the lead in the upcoming ballet performance.  There is a knock on their apartment door.  The Party has sent some of its operators to keep an eye on Feng.  A woman, Deputy Li, is at the door with two men.  Deputy Li introduces Teacher Yu of Guangming Middle School and her daughter Dandan to the two men: Deng and his colleague, Comrade Liu, from the political prison. Feng wants to know what the prison did to Lu to make him want to escape?  The men say they will be the ones to ask the questions.  Furthermore, there are certain things that the families shouldn't know.  Deputy Li tries to explain why the wife wanted to know, but she too is quickly silenced. 

The director decides that Dandan's competition, Mei, will be the lead dancer and not Dandan, even though Dandan is the better dancer.

Dandan sits on a bench crying in the rain over the decision. 

The homeless man shows up at the apartment building where Feng and Dandan live.  He notices that a man is watching the apartment complex.  This must be Lu.

Lu sneaks up to the roof of the building.  He then goes down a stairs to the floor on which the two women live. Lu knocks on their door very softly.  Feng is very nervous.  She checks to see if the guard is still in his position,  He is.  Dandan comes home and sees the strange man in front of her apartment door.  She wants to know who is it?  Lu just walks right past her and goes downstairs. Dandan follows after Lu and calls out to him:  "Lu?"  Lu stops in his tracks.  Dandan asks him if he saw her mother?   Father asks of her:  "Dandan?"  He adds that his daughter is all grown up now.  Dandan tells he that she does not known him and that they don't want to see him.  Lu has to go, but he tells daughter to tell mother that he will meet her at the railway station at 8 a,m.  He hurries down  the stairs.

A little later, Lu writes a note to Feng and pushes it under her apartment door.  Feng slowly walks over to the door and picks up the note.  Then she opens the door to see if Lu is there.  Of course, he's not there.  Meanwhile, Dandan goes out into the rain to talk to one of the guards.  She sadly tells him that she did not get the lead part in the ballet performance.  The man says that if Dandan would give him some important information on Lu leading to his capture, he can get her any role that her heart might desire. 

Feng comes outside to look for Lu and she sees Dandan talking to the snoop.  Feng is not happy with her daughter for perhaps betraying her father. 

When Dandan comes to the apartment she lies to her mother about how come she took so long outside.  The daughter now asks her mother if she is going to see father?  No answer.  Dandan asks her if she ever thinks about her?  Feng replies:  "Since you were young, I've always put you first.  But this time I must think of your father."  Dandan says she won't let mother see father.  Mother isn't budging on her stand, so Dandan cries and says that mother is going to ruin everything  She then grabs a chair and then sits in it right in front of the front door, saying that she will stop mother from going,. 

The next morning, Dandan wake us still sitting in her chair, but mother is no longer in the apartment.  Feng is hurrying to make connection to the buses to get to the railway station.  Lu hides under an abutment.  He washes his face with rain water.  Dandan is on her bike headed for the station..  Mother and then daughter arrive at the station.  Feng looks around for her husband.  Dandan anxiously looks for mother.  Lu now comes out of hiding.  Hew starts shouting for her and that gets Feng's attention, but it also alerts the police and they start chasing to get to Lu.  Feng shouts out to her husband to run away.  Lu hears her and starts running away. 

The police catch Lu before his wife can get to him.  A guard grabs Feng and she hits him with some rolled up bedding.  Now Dandan arrives from behind her mother. Once the police take Lu away, the guard throws mother on the ground and takes off. Dandan screams and helps her mother up, but mother wants no help from her daughter.  Feng has a bad cut on her forehead that is bleeding. 

The ballet of The Red Detachment of Women goes on.  Dandan only plays the role of a civilian bystander. 

Three years later, the Cultural Revolution ends.

Dandan meets her father at the railway station.  She says that mother doesn't know that dad is coming, and she doesn't know what happened to mother.  Dad has even wrote her a letter saying that he was coming home. 

Father and daughter arrive home at Dandan's place.  She is living in a run-down dormitory where she works.  Dad decides to go to see Feng.  When he arrives, no one is at home. He sits down at a desk.  Feng comes home.  She reacts strangely distant from her husband, as if he were a neighbor.  Feng still thinks that Dandan is dancing, when it's been  years since her daughter stopped dancing and went to work.  Lu asks:  "Did something happen here?"  Her answer is no, nothing.  She seems not to know Lu.  In fact, she calls him Mr. Fang and asks him to leave her house.  Dad says that his name is Lu.  Feng doesn't believe him and now tells him to get out. 

Lu has to wait out in the hall.  Dandan comes home and dad tells her:  "Your mother doesn't recognize me."  Feng has some Party officials with her and they are trying to convince her that Lu is here right now.  They try to enlist Dandan's help, but Feng rejects her, saying that she doesn't want to see her daughter because when dad came the last time, she wanted nothing to do with him.  The Party people bring in Lu, but Feng insists that this man in front of her is Mr. Fang. 

The officials let Lu live in an abandoned store nearby the apartment building. He and Dandan soon start cleaning the place.  While they work, Dandan says that mother has psychogenic amnesia.  She's had the condition for over a year.  Lu asks why doesn't Dandan live with her mother and help mother?  Dandan says mother won't let her. 

The next morning, Feng takes the bus to the railway station so she can meet Lu.  Lu sees her and follows her.  Feng waits with the others when the train arrives.  Of course, she doesn't find her husband among the arrivals. 

Lu is given a letter by the postman to give to his wife.  The letter has been terribly delayed, but it's the last letter Lu wrote to his wife explaining when he would be arriving.  He gets his daughter to give the letter to her mother, saying that mother won't realize it's a very late letter and will go down to the station again to meet her husband.  And Lu will be there to greet her. 

Lu comes down the stairs with the other arrivals.  He is the last one in the line, but still Feng does not recognize him. 

Lu talks to the doctor and he suggests that Lu take his wife to old, familiar setting to try to jog Feng's memory.  Feng is willing to try it.  He goes through old photo albums to see if they can be used to jog mother's memory.   Unfortunately, Dandan cut out Lu's face in every photo of him in the albums. 

Lu goes to comrade Li and is given a photo of himself when he was younger.  Lu gives the photo to her mother, saying that she had kept the photo.  Her mother comments that so, her daughter has a heart after all.  Feng looks at the photo and picks out Lu.  So now Dandan brings in her father, but mother closes the door on him.  She warns her daughter to never bring around another stranger to her apartment.  Then she says that that Dandan did so many terrible things that she can't forgive her.  Feng tells her to leave.  Dandan leaves crying.  Dad tells his daughter that mother is ill and Dandan must be more lenient toward her.

Feng keeps going to the train station on the 5th of every month because Lu had written that he would be home on the 5th day, but didn't mention what month.

Feng wants to have a piano tuner turn up her piano so that her husband can play it when he returns.  Lu overhears this and he pretends he is the piano tuner.  Feng lets him into her apartment as the piano tuner. 

When Feng goes to the railway, Lu goes to her always unlocked apartment.  When Feng arrives back home, Lu is playing the piano for her.  She walks over to him and touches his shoulder.  Lu starts to cry.  Feng starts to cry as her husband and her embrace each other.  But then she studies his face and then hits Lu and backs away from him. 

Father and daughter are both upset with the lack of progress with mother.  Dandan blames herself for the situation, but Lu says no, it was all his fault. Dandan now tells her father that it was she who told on father.  Lu tells her that he already knows that. 

Lu now sends a box of his letters that he wrote to Feng while he was in "rehabilitation".  Feng is very touched by all the letters.   She asks Lu to read the letters to her because her eyesight is not so good,  They sit town at the table and Lu starts reading the letters.  When the quit for the day, Feng asks Lu to come back and read her more of the letters to her.  Lu comes back the next day, but has to tell Feng that she asked him to come back and read some more letters to her.  She comments:  "You are the letter-reading comrade.  Please come in." 

One day father stops reading the letters.  Dandan visits with him and asks him why did he stop reading the letters.  She adds that mother has been looking for him. Dad says that if he keeps up the routine with mother, she will eventually become nothing more than a letter reader to her.  Dandan encourages him to go back to the letter reading, because that way he can help take care of mother. 

Lu returns to the letter reading.  He has to tell his wife who he is again, because she doesn't recognize him.  One of the letters he reads to her says that Lu was upset to hear about the fighting between mother and daughter.  He reminds her that Dandan was just a young person who made some mistakes and now regrets her mistakes.  Lu asks that Feng end the fighting and let Dandan back into their home. 

Lu brings great news to Dandan.  He says they can go home now.  Mother changed her mind. 

Dandan knocks on the door and this time her mother tells her to come in.  Daughter was thinking that mother would reject her again.  She was a bit shocked by his mother's reception of her.  Mother shows dad's letter to Dandan, who is happy to see the letters.  Feng picks up a letter and reads to her daughter that dad said it is time that Dandan comes home again.  Mother now asks daughter to move back home.  Dandan accepts.  She then reads the letter and starts crying over the great change in mother's attitude toward her. 

With mother and father watching her, Dandan dances ballet for them. 

Lu undoes a lot of his own work with his wife when he goes into her room where she is sleeping and tries to put another blanket on her.  Nevertheless, Lu learns some vital information about his wife.  She throws Mr. Fang out of her house saying Fang will no longer violate her.  Obviously, Mr. Fang was raping Feng while her husband was gone.  Dandan tells dad that one time Mr. Fang beat mother with a ladle. 

Lu goes looking for Mr. Fang.  He intends to beat Fang with a  ladle as a form of revenge.  Lu finds the home of Fang.  He tries to talk with his wife, but she thinks Lu is with the investigation of her husband.  She goes wild yelling at Lu saying that her husband has suffered for too long and she wants him released so Fang can come home to her.  Lu learns that Fang is being punished by the authorities for his corrupt ways.  He walks away from Fang's place. 

Mother waits for the letter-reader.  Dandan tells her that the man is ill.  So they fix some food and drink and come over to home of the letter-reader. 

Many years later.

Mother is quite old now, but she still goes to the railway station on the fifth day of every month.  Lu now waits with her to welcome the arrival of Lu.




The Cultural Revolution went out of control and ended up hurting or ruining thousands, if not millions, of people's lives.  This is just one of the stories of how the Cultural Revolution destroyed the lives of very good families.  The movie makes us feel empathy for the needless cruelty inflicted on so many by over zealous communist party members.  In this case a family is separated because some over-zealous communists accused a good professor of not having the politically correct communists views.  The good man was basically imprisoned in the name of a needless "rehabilitation".  It's the old theme of man being cruel to his fellow man for the whims of powerful people.  There are lots and lots of movies in a similar vein criticizing the so called "revolution".

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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