Course:ASIA355/2023/Coming Home: The Change of People in the Political Era Hidden in a Love Story

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Coming Home (2014)

Coming Home: The Change of People in the Political Era Hidden in a Love Story

《归来》Coming Home (2014)

Group Members' Contributions

Introduction JZ
Stories Behind the Film JZ
Reception of the Film EC
Scholarly Literature Review YZ
Comparative Analysis JS
Alternative Interpretation YZ
Conclusion JS, YZ, EC, JZ


Coming Home (2014)
Coming Home (2014)

Coming Home is a 2014 Chinese drama and literary film directed by Zhang Yimou. It was adapted by screenwriter Zou Jingzhi from Yan Geling's feature novel, The Criminal Lu Yanshi. Chen Daoming and Gong Li play the male and female leads in the story of a man returning home in the background of the Cultural Revolution. It was released in China on May 16, 2014, then subsequently screened in Cannes on May 20, 2014, and won Best Film from Mainland and Taiwan at the 34th Hong Kong Film Awards.


In the early 1970s, Lu Yanshi, a labour farm prisoner isolated from his family for many years, escaped during a farm transfer and returned home. His daughter Dan Dan, who dreams of dancing a leading role in a ballet, fears that her father's escape will affect her future. So she stops her mother, Feng Wanyu, from seeing her father and denounces him, and Lu was caught again. After the Cultural Revolution, Lu Yanshi is finally rehabilitated and returns home, but he finds that his daughter has given up her ballet dreams and become a factory worker. His wife no longer recognizes him because of amnesia.


First of all, we will begin with Zhang Yimou's take on the film and how he portrayed the story, how the film differs from the original novel and how he adapted it, as well as the performances of the actors and behind-the-scenes stories. Secondly, we will look at different perspectives on the film from within China and the West, as well as from the general public and professionals, discussing the impact and persecution of families, societies, and individuals during the Cultural Revolution.Third, we will explore how people changed and were affected by the political environment, from scar literature to film adaptations, amnesia, and the role of betrayal in the film. Fourth, we compare Coming Home with the Korean film Ode to my father in terms such as setting, plot, character, mise-en-scenes, and cinematography. Finally, we use two scenes to analyze the crisis of trust between the characters and the amnesia of the heroine Feng Wanyu, as well as to challenge Ying Bao's claim.

Stories Behind the Film

Zhang Yimou's Coming Back

Director Zhang Yimou
Director Zhang Yimou

The film’s name, Coming Home, refers not only to the coming home of the male protagonist, Lu Yanshi, but also to the coming back of Zhang Yimou. The film is the twenty-first film directed by Zhang Yimou, who was 64 years old at the time. As a director involved in filmmaking since 1983, he stated at the film's Beijing launch that Coming Home is a return to his creative roots.[1] Compared to the more commercial films Zhang Yimou made during that period, Coming Home is a more purely literary film, and he believes that this type of film requires a quieter environment to experience and capture the true feeling of the film quietly.[1] His creative roots were also reflected in how he shot the film, as he believed that the main thing in this kind of film is emotion and that using a commercial approach would make the film less realistic.[2]

For this film, Zhang Yimou said, "I want people to see first love, then family, and then the era. It's the first time I've done it in such a minimalist, restrained way, and it's enhanced my own aesthetics and thinking about life." [2] For the framing of the story, compared to Zhang Yimou's other more grandiose films that show the times and history, such as To Live, he chose to focus on love and family first this time. His idea for this decision was that there were already many different narratives about the Cultural Revolution and the post-Cultural Revolution period, and he thought focusing on love would be more innovative.[3] Regarding Zhang Yimou's portrayal of emotions in Coming Home, Director Spielberg commented on the film with his tears. Zhang asked Spielberg to come and do a technical appraisal of the film and gave Zhang Yimou a big hug, shook his shoulders, and said many excited words when he finished watching it. Later, Zhang learned from the translator that Spielberg cried for an hour and praised the actors' performance.[2]

Coming Home and the Original Novel: The Criminal Lu Yanshi

Original Novel Author - Yan Geling

The film is adapted from Yan Geling's novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi, which is based on her family's history from her own perspective to tell the story of the atrocities of the political movement during the Cultural Revolution, as well as focus on the life of Lu Yanshi as a prisoner.[4] After reading the novel, Zhang Yimou said that he was so moved by it and raised the idea of adapting it into a film.[2] Zhang was meanly interested in the last 20 pages after reading the original novel, which is the general plot of the film Coming Home.[2] He revealed that he “spent two and a half years adapting the script for these twenty pages”.[2] As to why he chose to adapt only the last twenty pages instead of using a more grandiose perspective to tell the story of the hero Lu Yanshi's complicated life, Zhang Yimou stated that “Yan Geling's novel is a big picture of the times, and I only took a small section to tell the story, reducing an era to the smallest family. This way is also the most difficult point I have found for myself. I hope to reflect the big era through a family story”.[2] Zhang also communicated with Yan Geling, the original author, on the script. Zhang wanted the film to be another form of story creation, to capture the novel’s essence while avoiding it becoming an exact replica. Yan and her mother expressed their love after reading the script, much to Zhang's delight.[1] In the original novel, the story is set in Shanghai, but since the main actors are from the north, Zhang considered changing the setting to the north. He commented, "Shanghainese (the dialect) is easy to learn, but Shanghainese (the people) is not easy to learn." Zhang also called Yan for this reason, and Yan agreed to this change.[1]

The Actors’ Filming, Behind-The-Scenes, and Production

Director Zhang Yimou and the cast of film "Coming Home," Chen Daoming (L1), Gong Li (L2) and Zhang Huiwen (R) at Cannes Film Festival in 2014.
Director Zhang Yimou and the cast of Coming Home, Chen Daoming (L1), Gong Li (L2) and Zhang Huiwen (R) at Cannes Film Festival in 2014.

Zhang Yimou said the two veteran actors are very mature and capable, but this time it will be challenging for them.[1] Gong Li, the actress who plays Feng Wanyu, is working with Zhang Yimou for the ninth time, but she also said it was difficult for her to play a person with amnesia this time. According to Gong Li, they went to an older people’s home in Beijing to visit the elderly with similar amnesia to the initial stage of the role. Gong Li also went to Shanghai to see director Huang Shuqin, who suffers from amnesia, to better understand the character of Feng Wanyu and to add layers to her performance from the actions and habits of patients.[1]

It is common for Zhang Yimou's films to feature veteran actors with newer ones. Compared to Chen Daoming and Gong Li, two very mature actors, Coming Home may have been a big challenge for the young actress Zhang Huiwen, who plays Dan Dan. Zhang Huiwen was only twenty years old at the time of filming Coming Home, and this movie set in the 70s and 80s was also her debut work. For Zhang Huiwen's performance, director Zhang Yimou said, "The story is all Greek to her; although she said she could look at books and pictures, it is too difficult to compare to real life. The director needs to guide her into it, but you can't actually talk to her about history. That’s not good for her to get into the scene."[1] The scene that impressed Zhang Huiwen the most was a rain scene in Tianjin. It was already three or four in the morning, and she waited for a long time, wearing very little and completely soaked clothes. Zhang thus finished the rain scene sitting on the roadside crying with a feeling of grievance. After the shooting, she sat beside the heater, still immersed in emotion, and continued crying. Zhang Yimou came over to comfort her, "Very good. It's very aggrieved, isn't it?"[5]

Coming Home also participated in the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, but it did not enter the competition and won an award. Zhang Yimou said he was indifferent to the award but felt sorry for the two main actors[1]. Coming Home is also the first 4k IMAX version of the film in China, a new image experience for domestic audiences. Director of Cinematography Zhao Xiaoding and Director Zhang Yimou agreed to use the highest definition and quality images to present a beautiful work of art for the audience[6].

Histories of the Film’s Reception

Coming Home appears to be a continuation of Xie Jin's “scar and reflection” films, drawing from the rich narrative tradition of Chinese film history.[7] The release date of Coming Home is May 16th, which also marks the first Oscars are awarded. Furthermore, May 16 has another meaning that the Cultural Revolution began on May16th in 1966.

Reception from public

Zhang Yimou and Gong Li

On IMDb, Coming Home has a 7.2/10 rating based on 6.4k reviewers.[8] It received mixed reactions from audiences. Viewers rate positively for the slow-paced and tragic Chinese love story. Gong Li's exceptional performance beautifully captured the essence of a woman who was profoundly devoted to her husband.[9]

The combination of a captivating story, the exploration of tragedy and love, and the exceptional acting skills of Gong Li and Chen Daoming all contribute to the movie's positive reception by the public. On Douban, most Chinese viewers rate Coming Home positively. The public are touched by the tragic and romantic love story. Some viewers are reminded of their parent’s era and how their parents live under the Cultural Revolution.[10]

Some understand why Zhang didn’t address the Cultural Revolution events directly, but they are revealed by the detail in characters’ talking. In the scene where the street director tried to let Feng believe the man is Lu, showcases the authority and power of the communist party. Her confidence in the power of the party could allow her to try to occupy Feng’s memories. [11]

However, some viewers, who read the original novel, thumbs up for the performance of Gong Li and Chen Daoming, not for the plot of the film because they think Zhang just got two characters’ name and the amnesia from the novel. They are disappointed to see huge differences between the novel and the film. Director Zhang Yimou also took into account the needs of the market to make such adjustments that he didn’t want to involve sensitive content about the Cultural Revolution, because his earlier film, To Live, was banned by the government. His adjustment changes the sensitive content to the theme of love, so choosing such a theme is more likely to be accepted by the public.[12]

Overall, most of the audience are touched by the tragic love story. Some critique the difference between the novel and the film. Based on the audience's knowledge of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese audiences have a deeper understanding of Coming Home because of their own or their parent’s experience of the Cultural Revolution, when English-speaking audiences only see the love story.

Reception from famous people

Mo Yan, a famous Chinese writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, points out “Although the story of this film is rather cliched, the message is straight to the heart.” Mo defines the most touching type of movie is like Coming Home.[13]

However, the editor of Movie World posted on Weibo that the film is "Pain mixed with cheap tears" and has a huge difference with the original novel since Zhang cut off all the elements that refer to the dark humanity and the oppression of freedom.[14]

A.O. Scott points out Coming Home is graceful and modestly scaled. Unlike Zhang's previous works, Coming Home has a quiet and sentimental denouement, deviating from the historical sweep and operatic fervor typically found in his films.[15]

Overall, the film is touching and wonderful even though a lot of elements are cut by Zhang Yimou.

Family and Society during the Cultural Revolution

Zhang Yimou

The film starts with a scene in which the labor propaganda team informs Feng and her daughter that Lu has escaped from prison. They are prohibited to see Lu and required to supply his whereabouts. Under the authority of the Party, Feng must accede to the order. The film does not directly address the events of the Cultural Revolution, but Lu’s family is damaged by the Cultural Revolution. Feng's amnesia can be interpreted as a pain to recall the past that even if history is forgotten, the trauma continues. [16]

Another scene is that Lu carries a large spoon to find Fang and tries to get revenge for Feng, but he gives up because Fang’s wife is yelling “Fang is a good person”. The reason that Lu gives up revenge is because he knew that the Fang family was also a victim of this political campaign. Under the devastation of the Cultural Revolution, both family and society became fragmented and desolate, oppressed by the absolute power of the Party; however, after the revolution, people's inherent goodness is reawakened, leading to a greater understanding and empathy for those who were previously hurt by the Cultural Revolution.

Lack of ego and self identity

In Coming Home, Dandan was indoctrinated to put party above family and she betrayed her father. Under the influence of external forces and societal pressures, Dandan becomes entangled in a web of loyalty to the party, causing her to distance herself from her family. However, Dandan chose to identify with her father when she saw Lu’s forgiveness for her behavior of cutting all photos. She found herself and realized the importance of family. The process of self-discovery is a deeply personal and transformative journey for individuals who find themselves lacking a sense of self.

At the end of the film, Yanshi chooses to pretend to be the neighbor of Wanyu because he is inspired by Dandan’s words that no matter in what capacity, as long as he is able to accompany and protect Wanyu, that is enough for him. Zhang Yimou still makes Wanyu not recognize her husband at the end of the film; she would still come to the station to pick up “Yanshi” who will never return with Yanshi himself as the identity of her neighbor. The fact that Yanshi gives up to let Wanyu recognize himself also suggests the questioning and challenging of self-identity throughout the film.

Scholarly Literature Review

Exploring a Romanticized Film Behind A Scar Literature Novel

In the article “Zhang Yimou's Coming Home: A Depoliticized Melodrama Adapted from a Scar Literature Novel,”[17] Cai discusses the differences between the original novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi (Lufan Yanshi 2011) with the film to figure out how Zhang depoliticizes the original intention of criticizing the political oppression during the Cultural Revolution into a description of a twilight romance from two marginalized characters. With the emergence of "Scar Literature" since the end of the Cultural Revolution, Cai initially explains that the purpose of Scar Literature is to support those who were heavily affected by the Cultural Revolution and left with deep memories and traumas, those who were hurt or marginalized, to vent the pain and humiliation they suffered back then. However, as the economy developed steadily in the late 1970s with the reform and opening-up, the literature that was used to criticize politics and society gradually turned to consumption and entertainment. Scar Literature thus gradually faded from the stage of literature. She points out that the adaptation of Return from novel to film corresponds to this point, while Zhang adapts the original intention of criticizing political oppression “into a twilight romance rich with poignant love anecdotes and drama”.[17]

Cai explains that the original novel “reconsiders the political radicalism, social disorder, and personal traumas during China's socialist revolutionary times through showing the conspiratorial nature and rapport between the defects of the Chinese persona and the disturbing features of the political campaigns”.[17] However, Zhang’s adaptation deliberately avoids the dramatic impact of the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent trauma it brought to people. She provides some deleted examples in the film, such as the humiliation and pain suffered by both Wanyu and Yanshi during their twenty years of separation, as well as introduces how Zhang's adaptation of the original novel in making the film reduced the critical power of the original but emphasizes the emotional bond between people. Cai depicts in detail the connection between Yanshi, his amnesiac wife Wanyu, and his daughter upon his return. Cai points out that throughout the entire film, Zhang transforms the focus of the pain and suffering the characters experienced during the Cultural Revolution into a romantic and bitter love story between the couple, emphasizing the connection between love and family. She believes that the film does not focus too much on the emotions and suffering of the female characters. She notes that although Wanyu is affected both physically and psychologically during the Cultural Revolution - she is sexually abused and she is always immersed in endless thoughts, worries, and repentance every day. Wanyu's morbid and distorted relationship with her daughter Dandan also suggests the depression and torment she endured during her twenty-year separation from her husband. Zhang does not focus too much on the emotional suffering of his female characters or clarify the causes of the characters' tragedy. At the same time, the film involves only a few violent scenes, which suggests that the film's main purpose is to explore the love and family ties between middle-aged couples as they experience separation and reunion, rather than to reflect the political and social issues that led to the events of the year. Thus, the author points out that although Zhang Yimou's Coming Home focuses on the suffering of the masses in a specific era and political context, his adaptation of the novel into a film does not delve into the suffering of the masses brought about by political influences, but rather turns the conflict to the love of an ordinary middle-aged couple. This demonstrates Zhang Yimou's attitude toward historically and politically sensitive topics.

Reflection of Cinematic Amnesia in Coming Home

Bao joins the scholarly discussion by building on Cai's argument that Zhang deliberately avoids violence, and political and social events in his films, and transfers traumatic memories from the Cultural Revolution to middle-aged love; in Bao's article,[18] she examines Wanyu's amnesia and challenges Cai's view of the rare appearance of political reflection in the film. Bao compares the role of depictions of amnesia in Coming Home and Red Amnesia, as well as examines how the character of amnesia in Zhang’s Coming Home symbolizes the traumatic memories of the Cultural Revolution. Bao points out that Wanyu's amnesia in the film is a representation of historical trauma that is politically manipulated and personally repressed. Although Bao also agrees with Cai that the film does not embody violent scenes, Bao argues that Zhang uses the image of an amnesiac female to express the erasure of personal memory by political forces, by stating “the traumatic events that directly cause Feng’s amnesia mark their absent presence through other details”.[18]

Meanwhile, Bao analyzes another film and compares it to Coming Home. She points out that Wanyu's amnesia also suggests the crisis of trust among the civilians during the Cultural Revolution, which indirectly echoes the abuse of power and oppression of people during this time period. One example would be the conversation between Wanyu and Director Li when she is unable to recognize Yanshi as her husband. Li states that Wanyu should trust the Party, and she assures her that the man in front of her is her husband in the name of the Party. This scene effectively shows how Wanyu was traumatized and affected in the previous times during the Cultural Revolution, and how she was forced to believe them even though she has already lost her memory. She explains that “[Wanyu’s] persistent amnesia embodies both her family’s psycho-physical traumas as well as their crisis of trust with regard to authority and its authenticity”, which suggests a sense of the abuse of power as well as the traumatized memories of the civilians during the Cultural Revolution.[18] There are a lot of people who share similar experiences with Wanyu, but they are forced to choose to forget. Therefore, Bao analyzes the symbol of Wanyu's amnesia in this film to challenge Cai's argument. She argues that Zhang Yimou does not deliberately avoid the historical and political impact on the civilians in the film, but uses Wanyu's illness as a reflection to suggest the historical trauma of political manipulation, the abuse of power, and the crisis of trust in human relationships, as well as to warn people of the seriousness of forgetting the past.

The Role of Collaborator and Doubling Effect in Coming Home

Morag[19] discusses the significance of films of betrayal to explore reflections on the traumatic legacy caused by the Cultural Revolution, which still has a huge impact on Chinese society. She compares Zhang Yimou's Coming Home with Wu Wenguang's 1966: My Time in the Red Guards (1993) and Investigating My Father (2016) to examine the ethics of upheaval and collective trauma. She initially introduces that “a magnitude of twentieth-century literature deals with the paradigmatic triad of perpetrator, victim, and bystander” while Chinese cinema research lack representations of the image of betrayal and the image of the Cultural Revolution collaborators.[19] She argues that while these Cultural Revolution films reflect on the psychological persecution caused from the oppression and abuse of political power during the Cultural Revolution, they do not acknowledge the Cultural Revolution itself as a unique trauma, nor do they use the discourse of trauma as a major perspective of analysis.[19] Thus, in this paper, Morag uses the image of betrayal and Wanyu's amnesia to examine the performance of participation during the chaotic period of the Cultural Revolution from the perspective of collaborators and perpetrators, instead of “the subject positions of revolutionary and reactionary, victim and perpetrator”.[19]

Dandan's declaration of her father.

In a section analyzing Zhang Yimou's Coming Home, Morag notes that “[the] film explores issues of speaking truth to power and the veracity of memories” and introduces the definition of “doubling,” in which each person held two identities during the Cultural Revolution.[19] She points out that “authoritarian regime pitted segments of the population against each other and violently enforced obedience to the political system” during the Cultural Revolution.[19] The concept of “doubling effect” was born out of the incidents of the Cultural Revolution in terms of the psychological oppression over the civilians. She argues that the forced ideology instilled in the civilians during the Cultural Revolution exacerbated the number of doubling identities, with an increased number of betrayal and destruction within the family. In her analysis of the film, Morag uses the examples of Dandan's behaviour of reporting her father in order to become the protagonist of the stage play, and Wanyu's amnesia to demonstrate how doubling effects are presented in the film as well as how they have both physical and psychological effects on people during the Cultural Revolution. She figures out that Dandan is represented as a doubling identity with both her identities of daughter/informer throughout the film. She does not play the role of beneficiary because she does not achieve her goals of becoming the leader role of the ballet play even though she succeeded in reporting her father.

This situation also reflects the abuse of power during the Cultural Revolution as well as the traumatic memories imposed on the masses. Dandan plays the role of an informer who reported her father, which made her unacceptable to Wanyu, and at the same time, she is not recognized by the Party either (she does not become the leader role of the ballet play). Morag also believes that Wanyu’s amnesia is another representation of the doubling identity throughout the film. She argues that Wanyu is not just a helpless victim, but she still has agency, as seen in her refusal to allow Dandan to return home and to identify with her husband. Therefore, Morag views Wanyu as a victim with agency “emphasizes the polarized identities of the CR turmoil”.[19] However, as Morag mentions previously in the paper, since there is a lack of a direct reflection of the Cultural Revolution represented in Chinese cinema research, she figures out that Zhang Yimou is still trying to avoid the psychological trauma of direct political oppression in this film. Although she explains that the strategy that Zhang Yimou used to switch from a direct reflection and critique of the political oppression during the Cultural Revolution to a twilight story still effectively “allows for a powerful critique of the wider social system”.[19]

Morag concludes that this film “lays the foundation for the articulation of an ethical stand in regard to the CR and Chinese politics in the 2000’s”; Chinese cinema of betrayal contributes to the awareness of doubling effects during the Cultural Revolution as well as leaves a gap for future directors to examine a direct reflection of the historical traumatized memories caused by the Cultural Revolution.[19]

Overall, the arguments made by those three scholarly reviews draw on the conclusion of political oppression, the avoidance of direct critique, and the reflection of amnesia.

Comparative Analysis

Main poster of Ode to My Father


Ode to My Father was released in 2014 in South Korea and directed by Je-kyoon Yoon. This film has reached 10 million viewers in South Korea. The reason why this movie was able to be a box office hit is probably because the Korean War was a historical background. Ode to My Father begins with Heungnam's deployment in 1950 during the Korean War. Through Coming Home and Ode to My father , the audience can realize both films address the historical context impacts on personal lives, especially family separation and reunion. The younger generations who have never experienced the Cultural Revolution and the Korean War might understand the pain of separation. In this part, the audience can read the similarities and differences between both films. By comparing the two films, viewers can see different yet similar cinematic elements and mise-en-scene.

Similarity 1: Similar family separation location

This scene shows Wanyu and Lu Yanshi's [21]separation at the train station.

The first similarity between the two movies is that the place where families are separated from each other occurs in traffic. In Coming Home, the train station is the first place where all family members encounter each other, and Wanyu and Dandan have seen Yanshi get caught by police. During Cultural Revolution, Lu Yanshi, an elite professor, was taken to labour camps. The pain of the family being dispersed for historical and political reasons persists for Wanyu even after her husband returns. Wanyu has suffered from losing her memory due to shock. She does not remember and recognize Yanshi's face even after he returns home. Wanyu keeps going to the train station to wait for her husband. Eventually, Yanshi goes to the train station with Wanyu. They both wait for Yanshi at the train station, representing an endless wait.

Young Deck-soo is crying on the boat because his father left in North Korea.[22]

In Ode to My Father, male protagonist Deok-soo is separated from his father and little sister, Mak-soon, at Hungnam Seaport. The Korean War broke out, and the Chinese army began participating. People who have lived in North Korea became refugees. Deok-soo's family faces a crisis when Mak-soon falls while boarding with the help of the U.S. military. He will not be able to see his father again, who went to save his sister. Eventually, Deok-soo and his family split up with their father and sister. Deok-soo lives near the port even after settling in South Korea. He waits and anticipates his father and sister returning to port. Deok-soo found his sister through a broadcast. U.S. family adopted her. However, he can not see his father again.

Similarity 2: Characters' giving up

This shot shows Dandan was ballerina and her passion.[21]

The second similarity between the two movies is that the characters gave up their dream because historical events impacted their personal lives. In Coming Home, Dandan, who is Wanyu and Yanshi's daughter, is a stand-out ballerina; however, her father, Yanshi, was sent to a labour camp which affects Dandan's ballerina life. She was known as a traitor's daughter. Thus, she would need help to get the main character in the Red Detachment of Women. Wanyu thought it was ok to play the warrior role, but Dandan could not accept it. Moreover, Dandan thought her father was a stumbling block to her success. Dandan felt it unfair; thus,  she gave up ballet and got a job in a textile mill.

Deck-soo who is in his 70s, reveals to his wife what his original dream is. It was a dream that he had kept to himself since he was young[22]

In Ode to My Father, Deok-soo is responsible for supporting a large family after breaking up with his father. He should earn money for his younger brother's

University tuition and his other younger sister's marriage fund. He had a long dream of becoming a ship captain. But after breaking up with his father due to the Korean War, he only made money from that young age and had no chance to fulfill his dream. He went to Germany to become a miner and volunteered to be dispatched to the Vietnam War. Due to his responsibility, he has never revealed his dream job. In the last scene, he tells his wife for the first time that his dream job was a ship captain.

Based on the films, Coming Home and Ode to My Father, the audience can recognize that historical events can deprive an individual's dreams, opportunities, and life satisfaction. The dreams the two main characters failed to achieve become more memorable to viewers.

After Cultural Revolution, Wanyu did not recognize her husband even he was in front of her. She suffered from memory loss[21]

Similarity 3: family reunion, unlike before

The last similar factor in the two films was that the family was reunited, but they differed from before the historical event. It shows that historically wounds do not heal easily. First, Coming Home shows that Wanyu has suffered brain damage, which is a psychological loss of memory for Yanshi. The family gets back together, but because of her memory loss, it does not become a complete family form as it used to be. She refuses to live with Yanshi because she does not recognize him and still has bad feelings toward Dandan. The reason is that Dandan reported Yanshi's location to the police when Yanshi escaped from the labour camp. A family might be defined as eating and living together. However, in Coming Home, there is no scene where the family eats and sleeps together. Instead of eating together, they individually eat at each other's house, but they share food; especially if one person is sick, they cook and give it to each other. Obviously, it is a Different form of the family than before, but only warmth remains between Wanyu and Yanshi.

Mak-soon and Deck-soo's reunion moment. Mak-soo is in U.S.; thus, they check each other through video calls.[23]

In Ode to My Fahter, Deok-soo has missed his father and younger sister, Mak-soon. In 1983, Korean broadcasts started a project to find families separated by Korean War. Through this project, a Korean broadcast called U.S. Broadcast. In Deok-soo's case, his call line was connected to broadcast where in L.A. He was excited and anticipated speaking with Mak-soon; however, she could not speak Korean. She only remembered a few sentences that Deok-soo said. The sentence was to hold his hand tightly and to wake up. Deok-soo talked to Mak-soon right before they separated. They met again, but it was hard to talk without a translator because Mak-soon spoke only English. The U.S. military left her in an orphanage, and in those days, Korean children were often adopted into the U.S. It can be seen that Maksoon was adopted into the United States due to the historical background. The family met again, but the time apart was long, and it became a reality that they could not communicate as smoothly as before the war.

Coming Home and Ode to My father has interesting similarities. However, they have some differences in terms of cinematography and perspectives. In terms of how they treat the father's promise and request, some cinematic factors and awareness of father.

Difference 1: Father’s promise

Lu Yanshi asks Dandan to deliver the message to Wanyu. However, Dandan refuses it[21]

First, two different movies show a different perspectives of the father's promise. In Coming Home, Yanshi's requests were ignored by Dandan. Specifically, during the Cultural Revolution, Yanshi escaped from the labour camp, and he arrived at his home where he used to live with Wanyu. Yanshi could not meet Wanyu; thus, Yanshi asked Dandan to tell Wanyu where and when the meeting was. However, Dandan refused it, and she filed a complaint with the police against his father. To her, her father was just a party traitor. She did not care about her father's request, and he was not an important person to her. However, after Cultural Revolution, Yanshi and Dandan's relationship was be better than before Cultural Revolution.

Deck-soo volunteered for the Vietnam War to earn money to support his family[22]

Otherwise, in Ode to my father, in the scene where his father jumped into the sea just before he and his father broke up, the father asked young Deok-soo to take responsibility for his family because he did not have a father. Deok-soo remembered the words and lives with them in mind for the rest of his life. For his family, he also went to German and Vietnam and gave up his dream. Moreover, he settled to Busan and bought a store run by his aunt. Finally, he could support all his siblings and his children too. This character indicates the typical men of that era in Korea. Deck-soo scarification his entire life for his family is a very touching moment.

Difference 2: cinematic factors

The second difference is that cinematography, and light are different in both scenes when they face the father’s request.

This shot is that Lu Yanshi and Dandan's first meet. No light shines on him, and his face looks dark[21]

In Coming Home, The most significant features are close-up shots, the characters’ appearance and contrasting light when Yanshi and Dandan meet first, and he requests Dandan to deliver the message. This shot is a close-up shot that shows the character’s facial expression well. When Dandan refused his request, his facial expression was distorted. In addition, a large difference in the light illuminates the Dandan and Yanshi. When Dandan is captured on camera, the director uses key light to shine brighter on her face, which shows high willingness. Her distrust of her father was reflected in her facial expression by bright light. However, there is little light when shining Yanshi. It is so dark to recognize Yinshi. It also means that his body and mind are exhausted, and he has suffered greatly in the labour camp.

This is an imaginary scene of Deck-soo in his 70s. He is pictured meeting his father and being comforted. Light shows the warm bond between father and son[24]

In Ode to My Father, the most touching scene is the imaginary scene of an old Deok-soo. In his imagination, young Deok-soo and his father met, and Deok-soo told his father that he had difficulty keeping his promise with his father. In this shot, a crane shot has the camera smoothly moving alongside up. Moreover, a key light shines on young Deck-soo and his father. This light creates a warm and touching atmosphere. Unlike Coming Home, Ode to My Father uses non-diegetic background sound. This sound makes the atmosphere sadder and makes the audience more immersed.

Difference 3: positive/negative awareness of father

Compared to Lu Yanshi (picture of difference 2), Dandan's face is very bright. It indicates that Dandan has more power than Lu Yanshi. Moreover, she rejects her father[21]

The last difference is awareness of the father in Coming Home and Ode to My Father. Fathers are perceived by children differently. In Coming Home, Yanshi is perceived as a traitor by Dandan. She thought that her father blocked her future. The biggest reason she thought so was that her father was taken to camp when she was three. She has few experiences with Yanshi; thus, her emotional connection with her father would be weak, unstable and unsatisfactory. When the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, Yanshi returned to his hometown. Dandan and Yanshi’s relationship seemed to have recovered and was more comfortable than during the Cultural Revolution. Dandan told her father that she informed the police of his location when he escaped the labour camp. Dandan sincerely apologized to Yanshi, and he accepted the apology and consoled her. All in all, during the cultural revolution, the father was the object of resentment and hatred for Dandan.

For Deck-soo in his 70s, his father is still a person he wants to see. He is crying because he wants to see his father while hugging his belongings[24]

Contrary to Coming Home, in Ode to My Father, For Deok-soo, his father is always the object of longing and the person he wants to see, even in his 70s. In the movie's last scene, Deok-soo, in his 70s, cries while hugging his father's clothes; that was the last thing his father gave to Deok-soo. It also became a legacy of his father. ThroughImagination scene, Deck-soo becomes young and meets his father; he is depicted wanting to be recognized by his father for his efforts. His father is a lifelong object of longing and broke up for historical reasons, but he wants to see him again.

The two protagonists are separated from their fathers because of historical reasons. However, their perspectives of the father are different. Deok-soo and his father's emotional connection seems more stable than Dandan's.

Alternative Interpretation

In “Cinematic Amnesia as Remembering: Coming Home (2014) and Red Amnesia (2014)”, Bao compares the amnesia of Coming Home and Red Amnesia and examines how the symbols of amnesia represent historical trauma and the oppression of political power and the crisis of trust between people.[18] Many scholars have pointed out, Wanyu's amnesia suggests the trauma and memories of people during the Cultural Revolution, and Zhang Yimou's film adaptation of the original novel creates a romantic story and emphasizes the emotional ties within the family. However, I will discuss Wanyu's amnesia as a reverse reflection of how easily human nature can be challenged under the influences of extreme environmental changes, in other words, to what extent people can change their personalities. I agree on some points with the crisis of trust mentioned in Bao's essay: indeed a crisis of trust rose between people during the Cultural Revolution, as they no longer trusted each other but all blindly believed in the Party, which led to the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution. However, if we consider Bao's view on the crisis of trust more deeply, I will argue that the reason why people stopped trusting each other during the Cultural Revolution was because of the change in their human nature under extreme circumstances.

Scene 1: Dandan’s facial expression when she noticed Yanshi (0:15:18-0:16:01)

Dandan’s facial expression: full of hatred while meeting Yanshi for the first time since he was arrested.

Although Dandan could quickly recognize Yanshi even with him wearing a hat, glasses and a mask, her expression contains full of hatred instead of missing towards her father. She just stares at her father and keeps telling him that she doesn't know him, and keeps backing away as if Yanshi is going to be the enemy that attacks her. She only hesitates for a while and then quickly goes downstairs because of the sounds coming up, and she does not want to be associated with him. She then come to report him because of the desire for becoming the leader role of the play. This sequence shows that in the face of brainwashing and the desire for self-benefit, Dan Dan chooses to betray her family. She does not consider the feelings of her parents because under the effect of the Party's brainwashing, she views Yanshi as the enemy. This effectively conveys that in extreme circumstances, humanity is easily challenged. At the same time, we can still imagine from Wanyu's attitude toward Yanshi and her family, and how she talks to Dandan about Yanshi, but her words do not work under the influence of the brainwashing during the Cultural Revolution: Dandan does not care about her words, and she  does not have a good impression of her father under the brainwashing. From Dandan's perspective, the image of Yanshi is just an obstacle that prevents her from becoming the protagonist of the stage play; she has to achieve her goal by drawing a clear line with him.

Scene 2: Wanyu’s resistance and refusal to recognize Yanshi (0:41:45-0:42:02)

Wanyu's illness is also a reverse example of how easily people can be changed under the influence of changing circumstances. Although her love for Yanshi has never changed during this tragic period; she has always trusted him and looks forward to his return, due to her amnesia and the negative experience of being betrayed by someone close to her (i.e. her daughter), Wan Yu cannot believe that the person in front of her is Yanshi who has already returned. She no longer trusts anyone but her husband, who will return on the 5th of the following month and goes to the station every 5th of the month to pick up her husband who is no longer likely to return. In this scene, her tears faded away and her facial expression changed to fear and unwillingness while noticing Yanshi stepping into the house. She has a strong resistance to his figure because she does not recognize him, and views him as Fang who had abused her before. Her resistance to people's words proves that she has already gained the experiences of people around her changing their personalities during the Cultural Revolution era, including her daughter who was brainwashed to betray her family for her own benefit. Amnesia made her lose her memory of her husband's appearance, and she did not believe anyone's words.

Wanyu's resistance and refusal to recognize Yanshi with her amnesia.

This prevented her from recognizing him; at the same time, she did not believe all people who told her that this "strange man" in front of her was her husband Yanshi. Although Director Li assured her in the name of the Party that the man was Yanshi, she still did not accept or want to believe that this man was her husband. In this sequence, Bao uses Li's words to point out the abuse of power and the verbal oppression of the masses back then, however, I argue that this scene also reflects how easily hearts can be changed. Everyone is easily convinced that Yanshi is a criminal and an enemy before he is rehabilitated. However, they suddenly change their attitudes towards Yanshi during the post-Cultural Revolution, that he is no longer a criminal. They even make Wanyu believe that this "strange man" is Yanshi. This suggests that the identity of whether Yanshi is a criminal or not can be easily changed, and human nature can also be easily changed under extreme circumstances. Wanyu's reaction is a perfect reverse example: she no longer trusts anyone after witnessing Yanshi's capture, nor does she change her mind easily under outside influence. She trusts only her own heart, and thus, under the effect of her amnesia, she is unable to recognize her husband with outside support. While others are easily influenced during the Cultural Revolution, Wanyu always keeps her love and trust to Yanshi.

Therefore, while scholars point out Zhang Yimou's Coming Home deals with the relationship among family members to convey the historical traumas and political oppression, and Wanyu's amnesia is a symbol of the abuse of power during the Cultural Revolution, I will argue the changes of humanity under the influence of extreme circumstances. Human nature would be challenged under extreme political repression and turmoil, and everyone would begin to change their minds as well as betray their families for the sake of some unfounded glory and loyalty to the Party. This is a continuous process instead of a sudden change.


Novels are fertile ground for film adaptations. Adapted from Yan Geling's novel, The Criminal Lu Yanshi, Coming Home revolves around love, depicting the disintegration of a family during the Cultural Revolution and using poignant love to reflect on the pain caused by politics. Our group gave the film a positive review. Its depiction of the impact of the historical context on individual lives and families allowed younger generations who did not experience the Cultural Revolution to see the pain and separation. Rather than grandly presenting the times and history, and without apparent killings and violence, Coming Home is restrained and hides the era in a love story. As a result, the younger generation may understand history more deeply and easily, while those who lived through the Cultural Revolution era feel empathy. This film can integrate several generations.

In this Wiki project, we explored how director Zhang Yimou adapted the original novel, his creative vision, and behind-the-scenes of the film's production. We looked at how the film was received and reviewed by audiences from different backgrounds, with mixed but overall positive reviews. In the literature review section, we look at amnesia, characterization, and literary adaptations to provide insight into the impact of the political environment on people. We also compare Coming Home and Ode to my father, exploring the differences and similarities in characterization and period setting in their similar farewell and reunion plots. We conclude by exploring alternative explanations for character change in a political environment, arguing that human nature is gradually challenged under extreme political repression.



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