Film Review: Road-Trip Comedy ‘Homecoming’ Is a Lovingly Crafted Celebration of the Festive Spirit
Homecoming follows various people between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur seeking, avoiding, enjoying or resisting their families.
Director: Lee Thean-jeen
Cast: Mark Lee, Jack Neo, Ah-Niu, Afdlin Shauki, Rebecca Lim, Huang Wenhong
Country: Singapore, Malaysia
Language: Mandarin, Hokkien, English, Malay
Runtime: 93 minutes
The Chinese New Year season has traditionally been strong for the local box office. Yet, it might be interesting to note that there have only been a few local films released during this period that are based around the festivities. 2011’s Homecoming《笑着回家》is one of Singapore’s first.
The road-trip comedy, featuring a diverse cast of Singaporean and Malaysian talents, was one of the top-grossing local films on both sides of the Causeway. In retrospect, the film might be overlooked for seeming like most local fares released during the holiday season: Mandarin comedies featuring a who’s who of the local entertainment scene. Preconceived notions are bound to arise.
However, Homecoming is easily one of the best of the ‘subgenre’. Familiar comedic beats are present but the humour never overstays its welcome. Delicate attention rings throughout with how the film is shot and the airtight balance accorded to its handful of stories. Its cross-border plot might also be especially pertinent and heartwarming during these times when visiting family overseas is impossible.
Taking place over the course of Chinese New Year Eve, Homecoming follows three groups of people as they remember the often-forgotten importance of reunion dinners. Arrogant star chef Daniel Koh (Mark Lee) fires his entire kitchen staff despite having to prepare a lavish dinner for a minister later in the evening, leaving his assistant Fei Fei (Jacelyn Tay) to figure a solution. Mindy (Koe Yeet), Daniel’s daughter, feels neglected by his father and hops on a bus to Kuala Lumpur to find her mother.
She is joined by mother-son duo Karen (Jack Neo) and Ah Meng (Ah Niu), and together runs into hijinks with an eccentric taxi driver (Afdlin Shauki). Over at Karen and Ah Meng’s destination, newlywed couple Boon (Huang Wen Hong) and Jamie (Rebecca Lim) plan to escape reunion dinner for a Bali getaway.
There are a few interesting tidbits to note about Homecoming in 2021. Early on in the film is a reference to the Golden Horse Awards by Mark Lee’s character that has aged particularly well. The name of Jack Neo’s character also feels somewhat prophetic. Yet, the most noteworthy might be that Homecoming is award-winning director and television showrunner Lee Thean-jeen’s debut film. He brings to the film a finesse that television audiences have grown used to with series such as Code of Law and 128 Circle.
Despite a hefty synopsis, Homecoming never felt unfocused nor over-indulgent on any one plot. The entire film breezes along at an easy pace thanks to its quick-footed humour and the bubbly chemistry amongst its characters. The cast exudes a warm familiarity with each other that is both welcoming and engaging. Neo and Ah Niu are particularly entertaining in their roles with their playful back and forths.
Even when Homecoming reaches out to slapstick, there is a sense of control to pull back the moment laughs are drawn and to refocus on its heartwarming tone. This is perhaps one huge reason why the film never felt oversentimental despite landing on a pillowy message of familial solidarity, delivered heartily by the cast. A special note has to be accorded to how the extras are directed as well; never awkwardly standing out and only adding to the festive atmosphere.
Another noteworthy aspect of the film is the work of director of photography Joel San Juan, who has since gone on to find international success working on projects such as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. In Homecoming, craftsmanship is felt almost immediately in the film’s opening moments with a long, continuous Steadicam shot. Variety only adds up from there, keeping the film thoroughly engaging — that is if the lighthearted banter hasn’t hooked audiences in yet.
Homecoming is a well-made, cosy comedy that champions the festive spirit with a cross-border story that feels especially required to reminisce about this year. The film exudes a homely warmth that wasn’t accomplished just from its star-studded cast alone, with meticulousness and artisanship apparent throughout. For those craving for one more Chinese New Year film to cap off the season, make it Homecoming.
Stream Homecoming on Netflix.