Review: ‘Home Coming’ (2022), starring Zhang Yi, Wang Junkai and Yin Tao

November 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Zhang Yi in “Home Coming” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“Home Coming” (2022)

Directed by Rao Xiaozhi

Mandarin and Arabic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from February to March 2015, in China and the fictional Middle Eastern country of Numia, the action film “Home Coming” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Chinese diplomat and his colleagues desperately try to save about 125 Chinese citizens who are trapped in war-torn Numia.

Culture Audience: “Home Coming” will appeal primarily to fans of war movies that tell compelling stories where humanity is not lost amid all the brutal action.

Wang Junkai in “Home Coming” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“Home Coming” piles on some plot twists that look overly manufactured for a movie. However, this action thriller succeeds in delivering heartfelt performances and gripping suspense from beginning to end. Some viewers might automatically dislike the movie if they think it’s nothing more than patriotic propaganda. However, there really isn’t any political preaching in the movie, which has a story that could apply to any nation with the resources and privileges to have diplomats who go on rescue missions.

Directed by Rao Xiaozhi, “Home Coming,” which takes place from February to March 2015, is essentially the story about how a group of Chinese diplomats try to rescue about 125 Chinese citizens who are trapped in a fictional, war-torn Middle Eastern country named Numia. Qin Haiyan, Shi Ce, Lei Zhilong and Bu Jingwei co-wrote the “Home Coming” screenplay. “Home Coming” is being marketed as “based on a true story,” although “Home Coming” doesn’t name any specific real-life people whose story is the basis of this movie. Certainly, the intent of the movie is to make viewers think about all the real-life innocent people who’ve been caught in the middle of warfare.

In the beginning of “Home Coming,” it’s the Chinese New Year in February 2015. Numia is in the midst of a civil war, with rebels fighting to take over the established government, which is led by a president that the rebels think is a dictator. The Chinese government has ordered all Chinese citizens to evacuate Numia. However, the plane flight carrying these evacuees is full. As a result, a group of Chinese diplomats had to stay behind in the Numia capital city of Laptis.

Chaos is everywhere in Numia, where deadly violence (such as bombs, arsons, shootings and stabbings) can happen to anyone at any time. In a car on its way to the Chinese embassy in Laptis are four Chinese diplomats who work for the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Consulate Protection Center. All four diplomats are among those who were left behind because of the full plane flight that carried other Chinese citizens out of Numia.

Zong Dawei (played by Zhang Yi), who is in his 40s and driving the car, is the hardest-working of these four diplomats. He has a stoic demeanor that gets tested as the situation becomes increasingly tense and dangerous. Dawei lives in Shanghai, where his wife Chen Yue (played by Wan Qian), also known as Yueer, is due to give birth in a few weeks. The baby will be the couple’s first child together.

Cheng Lang (played by Wang Junkai) is a 25-year-old “rookie” diplomat, who is the youngest of the four stranded diplomats. Lang is eager to impress his colleagues, but Dawei later questions Lang’s abilities to be a skilled negotiator in Numia because Lang doesn’t know how to speak Arabic. “Home Coming” has a somewhat predictable storyline with Lang and Dawei: The younger and less-experienced colleague tries to earn the respect of the older, jaded colleague.

Yan Xingzhou (played by Taishen Cheng) is an attorney who is in his 50s and is the oldest of the four men. Xingzhou is authoritative but he can be very impatient. In the car, he doesn’t like that it’s taking so long to get to the embassy, because of all the checkpoints, and he says he would rather just rent a car and drive to the destination himself. It’s a rather illogical plan because it would take too long to find a rental car in this chaos, and having a rental car doesn’t magically make the checkpoints disappear.

Zhang Ning (played by Zixian Zhang) is a secretary of state who is the fourth diplomat in this quartet of diplomats. Ning, who is in his late 30s or early 40s, is calm and even-tempered. He doesn’t get involved in the conflicts between Lang and Dawei. Ning has very mixed feelings about leaving Numia, because he has a daughter named Fatima (played by Elain Ahmed Lotf Rageh Algahefi), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. Fatima was born in Numia, which is also the birthplace of Fatima’s mother.

Before Numia’s civil war, Ning assumed that Fatima would be raised in Numia. And now, he’s frantically trying to find Fatima, who has disappeared. Fatima’s mother has also gone missing. However, because Fatima is a citizen of Numia, not China, there’s a big question over whether or not she will be eligible to go with the Chinese evacuees.

Dawai, Lang and Ning have a harrowing experience on the way to the Chinese embassy in Lapsis: In the car, Lang was using a video camera to record some of the rebel soldier activity outside. However, some soldier see that they are being filmed, so they stop the car, confiscate Lang’s videocamera, and detain the diplomats, who are told they won’t be released until they pay a hefty fine.

But more hell breaks loose when the building where they’re being detained is explodes from a bomb. The three diplomats escape in a daze, as they see death and destruction around them. Somehow, they make it to the Chinese embassy, where they have an emergency meeting to plan what to do next. The embassy building has been locked down, but that doesn’t mean that the building is completely safe and secure.

Dawai, Lang and Ning find out that about 1,000 Chinese citizens have been detained at the border of Numia and Talisia, a fictional country that can provide temporary asylum to these refugees. Most of these detainees don’t have their passports, which were lost or left behind in the chaos of their emergency evacuations. The rest of “Home Coming” involves the efforts to save a specific group of 125 Chinese evacuees who have been hiding in an abandoned open-air marketplace. And, of course, not everyone makes it out alive.

Some of the people who are part of this harrowing experience include two friendly Numian drivers who help the Chinese diplomats: Hassan (played by Yves Finkel) and his trusted right-hand man Kamal (played by Ahmed Mohammed Jaber Alkalthoom). The diplomats are also helped by a local Numian named Vadir, an elderly man who says he’s politically neutral. The leader of the Chinese evacuees hidden in the marketing place is a no-nonsense woman named Bai Hua (played by Yin Tao), who has a compassionate female sidekick named Zhong Ranran (played by Amy Haoyu Chen), a Red Cross volunteer.

Although “Home Coming” is mostly about what happens in Numia, the movie reveals some of the personal problems that are part of Dawai’s and Lang’s lives in China. Dawai has spent nearly all of his career as a diplomat in war-torn countries. But now that he’s about to become a father, his wife Yue has been pressuring him to take a less-dangerous job. It’s caused tension in their marriage because Dawai doesn’t want to quit his job.

Meanwhile, Ranran and Lang, who are about the same age, become closer and seem to have a mutual attraction to each other. During one of their conversations, Lang opens up about have a strict father in the army “who cares more about medals than he cares about me.” Lang having “daddy issues” partially explains why he is insecure and almost desperate to get the approval of his older male colleagues, especially Dawai.

“Home Coming” gets very graphic in depicting the horrors of war. There are scenes of dismembered bodies strewn out on the street, people burning up in flames from bomb fires, children being separated from their families, and people being hunted down and shot like animals. The military leader of the rebels is a ruthless sadist named Muftah (played by Ivan Ponomarenko), who isn’t just brutally violent. Muftah also likes to play cruel mind games with his captives.

In a movie like “Home Coming,” it’s only a matter of time before there’s a showdown between the “heroes” and the “villains.” The movie has a few moments where it looks like a situation has been resolved, but then more terror happens. “Home Coming” definitely keeps viewers on edge, to immerse audiences in the feeling that being in a war-torn country often means living in a constant state of fear and dread.

The movie’s cinematography, production design and visual effects are well-done, with all of it looking realistic but also taking on surreal qualities to depict the shock that innocent people caught in this war zone must feel. “Home Coming” also succeeds in making viewers care about the film’s main and supporting characters, who are depicted in authentic-looking ways by the talented cast members. This is not a war movie that looks like a soulless video game.

However, sensitive viewers should be warned: “Home Coming” can get very violent and disturbing in showing some of the worst things that can happen in a war-torn country. The violence isn’t gratutitous but is meant to show in realistic ways that oftenimes, no amount of diplomatic work or political neutrality can protect people who are trapped in a war-torn country. The movie specifically portrays to what the Chinese government is capable of doing to evacuate its citizens in these situations, but “Home Coming” never lets audiences forget that not everyone trapped in a war zone will have diplomats working to save them.

CMC Pictures released “Home Coming” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie was released in China on September 30, 2022.

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