The political environment has caused the civilians to pay its price since time immemorial. Even if not directly, they are the ones who have to face the consequences for the policies which sometimes even they do not agree with. ‘The Return’ has a narrative which revolves around a similar time in the history, when the Chinese Civil War between the Communists and Nationalists caused many soldiers to deport from their places of residence without their will. Most of them were in it thinking they’re fighting for their country. The ground reality of their existence was much more saddening since they couldn’t meet their real families till the end of their lives and had to lead a solitary life, which they eventually made peace with.
Qin Hailu, who is a largely successful Chinese actress, comes up with ‘The Return’ which is backed by Fortissimo Films. This is her debut feature where she primarily tells the story of a Veteran named Jiang Sheng, who was living a solitary life because of the aforementioned reasons. Initially, he fled to Taiwan to save an officer of the army, Li Yaojun. But both of them ended up spending most of their lives here hunging out in a Red Envelope Club in Taipei’s Ximending, where veterans like them used to be. Even when their relationship was a part of ridicule by the general public, they gave each other a kind of comfort and warmth that the society refused to give to either of them. Their shared empathy is what connected them in the first place.
Now that Jiang Sheng has come to the end of his life’s journey and where he has been told about a disease that he has, which would be fatal if not taken any kind of treatment, he decides to live without any hospital care. One of the ‘red envelope girls’- Jen, who has grown with affection for him doesn’t particularly accept his decision and wants him to get better. While Jiang doesn’t see any particular reason to live longer and thus wants the remaining time to be spent without the hope for better days, Jen is comparatively much younger and wants this companion of hers to be along with her for as long as he can. In the middle of this, a rather surprising revelation comes to him, about a secret that his senior Li had kept from him; which would have helped him to have a normal life. Thus, the rest of his time is spent on getting back to his homeland to know the whereabouts of his family and his long-lost wife.
The way these three tales at the center are interwoven with the thread of loneliness that made them take the decisions that they did, paints a broader stroke of how the lives of most of such veterans would have been like. In short, with an individual point-of-view, the screenwriter-director Qin Hailu succeeds in sharing the human values that connect us with the wider narrative of China-Taiwan relations in those years. In 1949, when it was difficult to even cross the borders, has been juxtaposed in the film with the ease of travel in their old age. The sense of ennui in all of them is emphasized with the use of silences and stretched scenes which work for the better of its narration.
The performances are definitely a strong point where Lei Ko is immensely effective with her immaculate understanding of her character. She craves for even a slight bit of attention from the veteran but is fiercely confident about the decisions she had taken in her life. Besides that, the melancholia that she’s able to show also as an underlying factor in even particularly joyous scenes, she is constantly the lively factor that makes even some meandering parts particularly engaging.
The cinematography is excellent where the lights create the nightlife inviting or haunting according to the scene’s requirement. Even the daylight scenes are composed neatly not to break the visual flow of the narration.
Perhaps the film needed a little more work in the editing room, which is not particularly bad but drags some of the scenes a little too much without a purpose. And this drag kept recurring scenes after scenes, and not every time does the writing have required potential to hold throughout. It’s a minor shortcoming which keeps the film from reaching the desired impact.
In the end, ‘The Return’ definitely turns out to be a largely admirable film for its understanding of the human values and the sacrifices causing the existential dread.