Genasai’s review published on Letterboxd:
I love melodrama. I really do. Something about a well executed pull of the heart string just puts me into a tailspin, and I fall into the rabbit hole of the film. A good melodrama gives you an emotional beating, but you never feel upset by that. You expected it, and, in the end, you should hopefully learn something from it. The beating should not have been in vain..
If at the end I feel beaten and weary and no lesson was learned, well then I might tend to regret the whole adventure. This is what defines a good melodrama to me: I learned 'something'. The 'something' that one learns can be terribly hard to pin down. I'm sure it varies from person to person. And a film which teaches someone a inspiring new truth could just be pandering an old and worn out cliche to another viewer.
Zhang Yimou has always been an artist focused on melodrama. His stories manipulate his victims in every which way. Such terrible realities are always waiting to befall them. This was seen most potently for me in the film To Live. A whole family is decimated under the force of a country's upheaval. But, as this family was equally representative of all the other many families who experienced this genuine suffering, through this film we learn about a nation of victims and perpetrators - the people turned against themselves and the many who were hurt in the process. This was a melodramatic tale of hardship and perseverance, and there is so much wisdom contained within it.
Throughout his career, Zhang Yimou has never strayed too far from the realm of melodrama. Even once he started directing his huge blockbuster fair - the melodrama was the through-line which tied together all his films.
Now, once again, in Coming Home, Zhang Yimou pulls all the right melodramatic strings. And I'm glad he did because I left the film with a profound lesson.
Coming Home tells the tale of a family. A father is arrested during the Cultural Revolution. He was a rightist, a capitalist, an enemy of the state. The daughter was three. She barely knew her father prior to his departure.
Come a decade and a half later. Much has transpired since his initial departure. The cultural revolution is over. The father is free and allowed to go home. But the mother is ill. The daughter estranged and unable to live with her mother. The father's return, which should have been a joyous one day event, instead becomes the start of a lifetime pursuit.
And that was the crux of the story, and why I loved it so much. A story about the perseverance of love. It was not the love of passion or impulse, but the love of simple assurance - in full confidence of its direction and amount. I haven't seen a movie for quite a while which shows such a good depiction of 'old love'. This is a couple who have suffered much - mostly separately (as for so many years of their relationship he was in prison) - and yet still maintained a quiet unwavering devotion.
Even as things become a bit hopeless, as no full reconciliation seems to be possible, we get a solution. One that is rightly conceived and given to us- albeit melodramatic in nature of course - for it shows us new ideals. These are the ideals of self-sacrifice and hope.
I loved the ending of this movie. It felt so true to my experience, yet I could never imagine experiencing something so dramatic. This is what a good melodrama should do. It should take you somewhere you would never go in reality in order to show you something intimately real.
Why do we love those we love? Is it so they will love us too? Is it because of some set of specific characteristics? Or it is because we simply love them? I feel compelled to chose the latter. I could never explain my love rationally. It simply exists. Although I continue it. I pursue it. And I refuse to abandon it. But it's existence is of itself.
I can only imagine how much stronger that will become once I share a child with the woman I love. That is a truth.
Coming Home is a magnificent melodrama. It whipped and bruised me, but left me better off for it. A great film from a great director.