It would be hard to find a 1980s release that bucked more mainstream trends in as unflashy a fashion as Homecoming. During an era when male-oriented action and comedy pictures ruled the roost, director and co-screenwriter Yim Ho put the focus on two women and had the audacity, borne out of necessity, of casting leads with little name value to local audiences. Even more unusual was the scenario's unfolding not in Hong Kong but in a quiet backwater of Guangdong province.
The result was a hybrid of cross-border sensibilities that captured the similarities and differences between two related but vastly different societies while avoiding facile culture-clash banalities.
That in and of itself would be reason enough to make Homecoming a 'must-see' as it returns to the screen this month as part of the Hong Kong Film Archive's 100 Must-See Hong Kong Movies series. But the movie's classic reputation rests just as much on its nuanced delineation of the love-hate relationship between two old friends.
In accomplishing this, Yim and co-scenarist Kong Liang displayed a degree of subtlety rarely found in Cantonese cinema, then or now. As a result, Homecoming avoids 'chicklit' cliches in depicting the reunion of childhood chums Pearl (Siqin Gaowa) and Coral (Josephine Koo Mei-wah), long resident in Hong Kong, when the latter attempts to flee her emotional turmoil by returning to the village she had long ago left behind.
That Coral and Pearl come across with more depth than typical 1980s heroines is due in no small part to the casting of two thirty-something actresses outside the standard starlet mode. The duo complemented one another and each won a Hong Kong Film Award alongside Homecoming's nods for best film, director, screenplay and art direction (the first of many such accolades for William Chang Suk-ping).
Though not the first Hong Kong feature to be lensed on mainland soil, it was a trailblazer in terms of its contemporary setting and subject matter. Almost three decades later, co-productions are the norm, albeit without a corresponding increase in script quality. Revisiting Yim's masterwork feels less a coming-home than a manifestation of the Chinese title's idiomatic reference to the fleeting nature of time.
Homecoming, May 27, 2pm, Broadway Cinematheque