Courtesy of Outsider Pictures

Coming Home Again

Movie Information

This beautifully made film will be recognizable to any adult child coming to understand the full humanity of his or her own mother.
Genre: Drama
Director: Wayne Wang
Starring: Justin Chon, Jackie Chung, Christina July Kim
Rated: NR

Coming Home Again takes its bland title from the rich New Yorker essay on which it’s based, a 1995 slice of memoir by Chang-Rae Lee. Set well before he became an acclaimed novelist (Native Speaker), Lee’s touching piece is about his return to his parents’ house to help take care of his mother who is in the final stages of stomach cancer. Adapted for film by Lee and Wayne Wang and directed by Wang, the movie transports the action from 1990s suburbia to an apartment in present-day San Francisco.

Working with cinematographer Richard Wong, a frequent collaborator, Wang constructs a painterly and poignant chamber drama with essentially four characters: Rae (Justin Chon of the Twilight movies), his mom (Jackie Chung) and dad (John Lie), and his sister, Jiyoung (Christina July Kim). But Dad is often absent, and Jiyoung arrives only late in the film, so the movie is chiefly the portrait of a mother-son bond — both its strengths and its pitfalls.

The film flashes between the present (in cool, bluish hues) and unspecified moments of the past (in warm, reddish hues), as Rae’s mom gradually reveals the hidden sources of sadness in her life. The family is Korean-American, but while immigration is a part of the story, the emotions and tensions between Rae and his mom will be recognizable to any adult child coming to understand the full human frailty of his or her own mother.

Coming Home Again is also a food film, opening with Rae preparing his mom’s signature pork ribs and climaxing with an elaborate New Year’s dinner — all complicated by the mother’s cancer, which makes her unable to eat. The symbolic weight of this broken bond is clear, as is the metaphoric intent of Rae’s attempts to patch up the peeling paint in his parents’ home.

But the film is never arch or pretentious, in part because the actors are so committed to the quiet truth of their roles. As the mom, Chung gives a fantastic performance, beautifully understated and yet often heartbreaking. Chon is equally fine, although it would be hard for any actor to sell some of Rae’s stranger actions and outbursts toward the end.

This is not a movie anyone needs to explain to you — it’s all right there in Wang’s and Wong’s gorgeous compositions, in the naturalistic dialogue and in the layers of meaning built up by the characters’ successive revelations. Don’t shy away from Coming Home Again because of the terminal illness at its center. It’s most definitely a movie chiefly about filial love and life.

Available to rent via


Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.