Taking a break from martial arts/action-movie roles for a change, Donnie Yen tries to flex his dramatic chops in Come Back Home <搜救>. The movie also marked the return of Lo Chi-Leung — his first movie in seven years since he last directed The Vanished Murderer <消失的兇手> in 2015.
In Come Back Home <搜救>, we first met A-De (Donnie Yen) enjoying a winter family trip with his wife, Minxuan (Cecilia Han) and their two young kids in the Changbai Mountains in northeast China. Later, while on the way to a lake that their 8-year-old son, Lele (Yuan Jinhui) has been longing to visit using an alternative route, things start to go wrong from there. First, Lele turns rebellious after an argument with his dad. A-De, in turn, decided to leave him behind as a form of punishment.
After dropping his wife and their daughter off somewhere, he returns to the same place where he left Lele alone, only to discover he has disappeared. He drives around to look for him in the area and his wife subsequently reports their missing child at the local police station.
Soon, it doesn’t take long before the police and more official authorities perform a search-and-rescue operation to find Lele, with A-De and his wife joining as well.
Come Back Home <搜救> gets off to a promising start that quickly establishes Yen’s character as a loving but strict father, who wouldn’t hesitate to smack his misbehaved kid — in this case, Lele — if necessary. A typical old-school parent, to be exact. In the subsequent scenes where his son has disappeared and desperation starts to kick in, director Lo Chi-Leung doesn’t waste time getting to the search-and-rescue part. We see how A-De becomes increasingly desperate like any normal parent would be if their children are missing and for a while there, I actually root for his character. Donnie Yen may have been prominently known for his action-oriented role but he manages to pull off a convincing turn playing such a character.
But as the movie progresses further, this is where it starts to show some cracks. Lo Chi-Leung, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Zhang Xiaolu, Yeung Sin-Ling and Ying Chi-Wen, tries to cover everything at once. And that includes slipping in topical and relevant issues from how the police handle a missing-person case to seeking outside help by making the case viral through social media. Too bad all these elements are incorporated in a superficial manner, which made me wonder why bother adding them in the first place. Such a padded-out narrative causes the movie drags longer than it should when Lo Chi-Leung could make this work in the form of a race-against-time search-and-rescue drama.
If that’s not enough, the movie also includes several flashbacks every now and then, detailing the past between A-De and his wife as well as their children. While it might feel necessary for us to learn more about A-De, these occasional flashbacks often break the momentum of the movie.
Still, other than Yen’s decent dramatic turn and the movie’s promising first act, Lo Chi-Leung deserves mention for shooting Come Back Home <搜救> mainly on location. This helps to bring out the gritty realism in the movie, even though you have to get over some of the spotty special effects. Since this is more of a grounded search-and-rescue drama, don’t expect Donnie Yen to pull off his usual martial arts prowess. There are a few action sequences including a brief moment involving A-De facing a group of kidnappers that may or may not have abducted his son but it’s not what you think. Elsewhere, there’s a huge effect-laden avalanche sequence — easily the most thrilling set piece in the movie.
Overall, it feels like a missed opportunity that could have been better if not for the narrative distractions and its sluggish pace. Also, so much for the long wait thinking that Lo Chi-Leung would make a potential comeback after the disappointing effort of The Vanished Murderer <消失的兇手>.