Director: Lo Chi Leung
Cast: Donnie Yen, Cecilia Han, Jia Bing, Tang Xu, Hou Tianlai, Xu Guangyu, Cai Xin, Lin Chenhan, Hu Min
Runtime: 1 hr 48 mins
Rating: PG (Some Intense Sequences)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 27 October 2022
Synopsis: In the cold winter, a group of Shenzhen tourist families take a trip to the northeast Changbai Mountain. It was originally intended to be a happy and harmonious holiday, but due to the negligence of his father, an 8-year-old boy is unfortunately lost. The parents seek assistance from the relevant local authorities, and the search and rescue operation begins immediately. The golden rescue time of 24 hours passes, followed by the routine safety limit of 48 hours, but the child is still nowhere to be found. Even if there is little hope, the father and the search and rescue teams will not give up… .
Unfortunately for Donnie Yen, few in Mainland China cared about him playing a desperate father trying to locate his eight-year old son in the snowy wilderness. Despite opening over the lucrative Golden Week period, ‘Come Back Home’ barely made a dent at the box office, and would probably go down as one of his worst-performing movies in recent memory. That is indeed a pity, for the disaster thriller sees the 59-year old action star put aside his fists to turn in a sincere, grounded and even heartfelt performance which deserves to be seen in its own right.
Written and directed by veteran Hong Kong filmmaker Lo Chi-leung, ‘Come Back Home’ centres on the ordeal De (Yen) goes through when a winter family vacation in the Changbai Mountains in northeast China goes awry. Even though it isn’t immediately clear why Yen would spark to such a role, it is evident by the halfway mark that De is a lot more complex than initially envisioned. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that De was responsible for leaving Lele (Yuan Jinhui) at a remote cabin as punishment for the latter’s bratty behaviour on the road shortly before, only to find that Lele had ventured into the mountains on his own than wait for De to return.
Because of this, De is well aware his wife Xuan (Cecilia Han) would hold him personally responsible if Lele were never to be found or loses his life as a result. It is not only why De takes it upon himself to mount his own search when the local police’s response the first night is found wanting, but also why De goes to extremes like trying to cross a fast-flowing river on his own to try to get the search and rescue party to expand their efforts towards the direction of Lake Tian where he had promised to bring Lele to see the ‘lake monster’.
To his credit, Yen is surprisingly believable in the role of De, casting aside all hint of vanity to throw himself into a flawed everyday character. De’s recklessness in the first act might come off frustrating and somewhat contrived, but Yen largely keeps it in check from the point of view of how De had lost Lele in the first place. Yen’s portrait of stoic determination is deeply affecting especially in the last act when the cost of the search and rescue (SAR) operation mounts, and without giving too much away, let’s just say the end is both gratifying and sobering at the same time.
Whilst Yen is quietly compelling, Lo’s film on the whole however falls short. Than simply follow the convention of a procedural, Lo gets distracted every now and then with unnecessary narrative detours, including the vagaries of citizen journalism, the politics of modern-day police work, and even questions about parenting methods. Only in the second half does Lo fully settle down to focus on the search proper, as hope fades and an avalanche causes the unexpected death of a key member of the search party; otherwise, the first half treats the ticking hours too cursorily, skipping across hours in a stretch, and not giving us sufficient perspective of the SAR efforts.
At least though, despite its flaws, ‘Come Back Home’ boasts consistently stunning visuals, thanks to the production team’s commitment to film on location across two winters in sub-zero temperatures. There is never any doubt how scary it would be to lose a kid in such weather, or how difficult it would be to hold out against hope, and Lo makes good use of these relatable emotions to draw us into his movie. Like we said, it’s a pity the film didn’t get its due recognition at the box office, but on the account of his performance alone, true-blue Yen fans should not miss him in quite possibly one of his best dramatic roles.
(Some of the best acting Donnie Yen has done in recent memory, 'Come Back Home' suffers from some storytelling gaps in its first half, but redeems itself with a strong character-driven arc by the time it comes to an uncompromising end)
Review by Gabriel Chong