Renowned Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou reunites with his longtime muse, actress Gong Li, in the intimate period melodrama "Coming Home." Set during the Cultural Revolution, the film follows college professor Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), a political prisoner for unspecified offenses against the state. As the film opens, he's escaped from the labor camp where he was being held and is attempting to make his way home to his wife, Feng Wanyu (Gong), and teenage daughter Dan Dan (Zhang Huiwen). Alerted by authorities of Lu's actions, Feng anxiously anticipates her husband's arrival. Head filled with government propaganda, and not having seen her father since she was an infant, Dan Dan betrays Lu by turning him in to party officials.
The film jumps forward several years to pick up at the end of the Revolution, as Lu is finally freed and allowed to return home. But his happy reunion is cut short when he learns that an accident on the day of his capture has left Feng with amnesia, and she no longer remembers him. Yimou follows Lu as he attempts a variety of methods to trigger her memory, resurrecting old photos, unsent letters, and piano melodies to conjure up memories of their years spent together. The material is unabashedly sentimental, but a strong directorial hand and excellent performances keep things from turning maudlin. Lu's devotion to his family is heartbreaking, and the film becomes a moving account of a family's journey through loss, regret, and the possibility for reconciliation.