Movie Review: Come Back Home (搜救)

Not to be confused with the Korean comedy that shares the same English title, COME BACK HOME brings action star Donnie Yen/甄子丹 (the IP MAN films) back to the big screen. This time, though, Yen isn’t kicking any butts.

On a family outing to the snowy Changbai Mountains in China’s northeast, Ah De (Yen), his wife Minxuan (Cecilia Han/韓雪, THE GOLDEN DOLL) and their two children are the poster image of the country’s growing upper middle class. It all turns sour, however, when eight-year-old LeLe insists on going to nearby Lake Tian even though the main road to get there is closed due to the weather conditions. China’s little emperors, though, are used to getting their own way, and De submits to his son’s demand. On route there, their car runs into a slight problem and LeLe jumps out to run around in the snow. When he nearly causes an accident, De decides to teach the boy a lesson and drives away. When he returns a few minutes later, though, LeLe is nowhere to be found. With the clock ticking and sub-zero temperatures outside, the local police constable (played by Jia Bing/賈冰, LOST IN RUSSIA) is contacted and he calls in the Search & Rescue Unit who use an array of high-tech toys to find the boy.

Like so many films coming out of China these days, COME BACK HOME is just a recruitment advertisement for one of the country’s disciplined services dressed up as a movie. Audiences are meant to be amazed and impressed at how advanced China has become, and that’s fine, but do we have to pay money to sit through 104 minutes of repetitive storytelling and overacting to find that out?

Writer-director Law Chi-leung/羅志良 (THE VANISHED MURDERER; DOUBLE TAP) pads the story with plenty of diversions, the most interesting of which is the possibility that De is an unreliable narrator. As we come to learn, De isn’t the best of dads, either not being present for his family or losing his temper with LeLe whenever the boy crosses the line, which it seems he does quite often. Unfortunately, this arc goes nowhere as Minxuan goes from suspecting her husband of murdering their son to welcoming him back into the fold in a matter of seconds even when the evidence of his innocence isn’t there. Law also throws all the laws of science out the window when De falls into freezing water multiple times and is no worse for wear, survives an avalanche only to get into a fist fight with one of the SAR guys, and don’t get me started on the wafer-thin ice when the temperature outside is -31 degrees. The last one wouldn’t be so ridiculous if the same ice wasn’t the thickness of permafrost just a few feet away. The only good thing about the movie is that it doesn’t end the way you’d think it would.

The film was shot on location over two winters as China’s strict covid policies halted production for almost a year. It debuted in China at the beginning of October for the Golden Week holiday where it tanked at the box office. I would like to think that audiences there are getting tired of these jingoistic films – and this one isn’t even as blatant as the others – but the box office winner was the similarly named HOME COMING (萬里歸途), a patriotic rescue movie about the evacuation of Chinese citizens from a war-torn country in north Africa. Perhaps, then, audiences simply don’t want to see Yen in a dramatic role.

COME BACK HOME opened in Hong Kong yesterday (November 3rd). Donnie Yen fans would be better off skipping this one and waiting for JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4, which is due out in March 2023.

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