A Korean-American man struggles to accept that his mother is dying as he cooks her favorite recipes for her in “Coming Home Again,” a small-scale Asian-American, immigrant woman’s, and mother-son story directed by Wayne Wang and based on Chang-rae Lee’s same-named New Yorker essay.
Wang has shifted into independent, intimate gear — more “Smoke” than “The Joy Luck Club” — for this chamber drama, recently in San Francisco’s CAAMFest Forward and opening at the Roxie virtual cinema on Oct. 23. It transpires almost entirely in a San Francisco apartment, where young writer Chang-rae (Justin Chon), having left his job in New York, is caring for his mother (Jackie Chung), who has terminal stomach cancer.
Devotedly, Chang-rae tends to his mother at her bedside, seeing to her IV needs. In the kitchen, he copes by cooking a New Year’s Eve family dinner consisting of dishes his mother used to lovingly prepare. The emotional stakes are high.
The efficient cinematography, reflecting Chang-rae’s psychological state, sometimes includes both rooms in a single shot.
As Chang-rae slices, pours, stirs and marinates the food, memories of his Korea-born mother in her healthy days, and of her cooking and the sacrifices she has made, fill his head.
The screenplay, by Wang and Lee, contains little narrative substance, and Wang’s use of long and mid-range shots to convey mood doesn’t yield emotional wallop.
But Wang avoids dying-mom-movie mawkishness, the flashbacks feel organic to the primary story, and Chon and Chung navigate their characters’ tangled mother-son relationship thoroughly believably. Both Korean flavored and universally relatable, the film quietly triumphs.