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Farewell My Concubine

Farewell My Concubine

Deserving of its award at Cannes and of its prominent position in 1993's New York Film Festival, Farewell My Concubine (bà wáng bié jī 霸王别姬), a 1993 Chinese film directed by Chen Kaige (chén kǎi gē 陈凯歌), is one of the central works of the Fifth Generation Movement that brought Chinese film directors to world attention. Initially banned in China but shown to international acclaim, Chen Kaige's film is one of the year's true masterpieces.

Poster for Farewell My ConcubineThe film is an adaptation of the novel by Lilian Lee (lǐ bì huá 李碧华). Lilian Lee is also one of the film's screenplay writers. Farewell My Concubine spans fifty-three years, presenting the lives of two men against the historical backdrop of a country in upheaval. Like other Fifth Generation films, Farewell My Concubine explores the effect of China's political turmoil during the mid-20th century on the lives of individuals, families, and groups, in this case, two stars in a Peking opera (jīng jù 京剧) troupe and the woman who comes between them.


altIn 1924 Beijing, the youthful Douzi (xiǎo dòu zǐ 小豆子) and Shitou (xiǎo shí tóu 小石头) are brought together under the thumb of the strict master of a small acting troupe. It quickly becomes apparent that these are the most talented of the master's pupils, and he pushes them harder than his other students. Thirteen years later, their suffering has paid off. Douzi, now going by the name of Chen Dieyi (chéng dié yī 程蝶衣) (Leslie Cheung) (zhāng guó róng 张国荣), and Shitou, called Duan Xiaolou (duàn xiǎo lóu 段小楼) (Zhang Fengyi) (zhāng fēng yì 张丰毅), are major opera stars, and their production, "Farewell My Concubine" (the story of the Chous emperor's concubine who kills herself rather than to be taken by the forces of the new Han Dynasty emperor) is nationally known.

altThe two are inseparable, until the woman Juxian (jú xiān 菊仙) (Gong Li) (gǒng lì 巩俐) comes between them. This is when it becomes quite clear that Cheng's feelings for Duan are more than brotherly. He is in love with Duan, and sees Juxian as a threat to their relationship both on and off the stage, something that Duan seems to interpret as an obsession with the opera that Cheng cannot separate from real life.

altFrom the Japanese invasion of 1937, the KMT (guó mín dǎng 国民党) consolidation of power, the Communist takeover in 1949, to the Cultural Revolution of the 60's and 70's, Both Duan and Cheng get into trouble with these new regimes. Duan because of his hotheadedness, and Cheng because of his naivete. Sometimes out of spite, sometimes out of love, both do things that come back to haunt them later in life in tragic fashion.

Dieyi Somehow they survive all this and following the end of the Cultural Revolution (1977) they try go get together to perform their famous opera once again. They replay the famous scene where the concubine slits her own throat and this time Douzi slits his own throat at the climax of the performance now leaving Xiaolou totally alone.

altThe direction of this film is spectacular, but at the heart of this film's success is the superlative jobs done by the actors.

Leslie Cheung, the Hong Kong superstar, gives a delicately nuanced performance as Cheng, which is the most fascinating character. He can best describe his entire sparking life—his acting life, his belief and his death. Leslie Cheung acted this role, earn his numerous reputations both home and abroad. If you have seen that before, you’ll know what an excellent actor is all about. He is not just acting, he’s acting with his life.

StarringGong Li, who was called something like "the most beautiful actress in films" by some critic is stunning as Juxian. She manages to convey a sort of manipulative cunning, and while she is tearing the lives of the two men apart, the viewer can't help but sympathize with her. There's a kind of deep sadness just behind her eyes that appears as the film progresses into its third stage, as if she knows that what she does can only have tragic consequences but she is powerless to act differently.

Zheng Fengyi more than adequately provides enough testosterone to balance opposite the effeminate Dieyi and Juxian.

Highlight : Peking Opera
Peking OperaRunning through the film is the Peking Opera also known as Farewell My Concubine. The opera becomes Dieyi and Xiaolou's staple act and scenes from it are performed throughout the film.
The events in the film parallel the play. The opera concerns the loyalty of the concubine Yu Ji (yú jī 虞姬) to the King of the state of Chu (chǔ bà wáng 楚霸王) after Liu Bang (líu bāng 刘邦), soon to found the Han Dynasty has defeated him. The transition to Han Dynasty rule parallels the transition to the People's Republic of China. The Concubine's fatal devotion to her doomed emperor is echoed by Dieyi's devotion to Xiaolou. At one point in the film, Xiaolou snaps to Dieyi, "I'm just an actor playing an emperor. You really are Yu Ji".

Film Review
altThe power of this film was not missed by Chinese censors who banned, removed, and then banned the film again several times over, debating whether or not its artistic brilliance was worth subversive portrayals of suicide and homosexuality. Unlike "The Last Emperor", this film was made by Chinese film makers and is in tune with its subject. The most wonderful illustration is that the same drama, the difference opera stage backdrop can show us clearly Chinese history and the lives of the characters: Warlords, Japanese invasion of 1937, Culture Revolution and Communist takeover. Farewell My Concubine is a motion picture experience that few will soon forget after leaving the theater. It is really a masterpiece.

altThe very first film from the People's Republic of China to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Jackie Chan was originally offered the role of Duan Xiaolou due to his own childhood experience of training in the Peking Opera. But he turned it down, fearing that the film, which deals with themes of homosexuality, might tarnish his image.

Yu JiAwards and Nominations
66th Academy Awards, 1993 
    Best Foreign Film (nominated)
    Best Cinematography - Gu Changwei (nominated) 
National Board of Review (USA), 1992
    Best Foreign Film 
Cannes Film Festival, 1993
    Palme d'Or - tied with Jane Campion's The Piano from New Zealand (1993)
    FIPRESCI Award for Best Film in Competition
BAFTA (British Academy Award), 1993
    Best Film not in the English Language
Mainichi Film Concours, 1993
    Best Foreign Language Film
Golden Globe Awards, 1993
    Best Foreign Language Film
Los Angeles Film Critics Association, 1993 
    Best Foreign Film
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, 1993 
    Best Foreign Film
altChinese Performance Art Association, 1993
    Special Award - Leslie Cheung
New York Film Critics Circle Awards, 1993
    Best Supporting Actress - Gong Li
Political Film Society, USA, 1993
    Special Award
International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography, 1993
    Silver Frog - Gu Changwei 
    Golden Frog - Gu Changwei (nominated)
César Awards, 1994
    Best Foreign Film
Japanese Critic Society, 1994
    Best Actor Award for Foreign Movie - Leslie Cheung




Last Updated on Thursday, 27 August 2009 16:48

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