With his new drama, the director Wayne Wang channels the style and energy of his early, scrappy independent movies.
Throughout his career, the Hong Kong-born director Wayne Wang has applied a purposefully eclectic approach to environments and subject matter. He’s proven equally comfortable adapting a best-selling book like “The Joy Luck Club” and visualizing the urban esoterica of Paul Auster (“Smoke” and “Blue in the Face”). You’d be hard-pressed to cite a director who’d follow the bleak explicit eroticism of “The Center of the World” with the syrupy Jennifer Lopez rom-com “Maid in Manhattan.”
His new picture, “Coming Home Again,” which he wrote with the Korean-American author Chang-rae Lee (adapted from an essay by Lee), harks back to where Wang came from both thematically and cinematically: He achieved prominence with scrappy, low-budget pictures like 1982’s “Chan Is Missing.” But this movie doesn’t feel like a throwback.
Its central character, also named Chang-rae, is in San Francisco looking after his mother, who’s dying of stomach cancer. The irony here is bitter, as one of Chang-rae’s responsibilities is cooking, and he tries to make the traditional dishes his mother taught him, despite her inability to enjoy them.
As Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” (2019) did with a Chinese-American character, “Coming Home Again” looks at the impending loss of a loved one through the prism of the immigrant experience.
Chang-rae’s petulant exasperation at a church group that comes to the apartment for a prayer meeting, and his defensiveness when explaining to his father why he’s quitting a full-time job to pursue writing, are scenes we’ve perhaps seen some version of before. But Wang — using a direct, unadorned shooting style — along with his cast (Justin Chon, who’s been around for some time, makes a strong impression as Chang-rae) put them across with unusual integrity.