Farewell My Concubine

"OK"

Farewell My Concubine Review


Chen Kaige cemented his international film credentials with the lush Farewell My Concubine, which presents a compendium of his expressionistic techniques and thematic concerns (striking imagery, fluid camera, emotional intensity, and, also, simple-minded historicity, banal character development, and an uninvolving narrative line).

Kaige's film charts the course of a unique romantic triangle that would even give Frank Borzage pause, following the relationship of two boyhood friends over half a century of turbulent Chinese history. After being abandoned by his prostitute mother at the Beijing Opera training school, young Douzi (Ma Mingwei as a child, Yin Shi as a teen, and Leslie Cheung as an adult) soon makes friends with the cocky Sitou (Fei Yang as a child, Yin Zhi as a teen, and Zhang Fengyi as an adult), and they both provide emotional support for the other as they undergo the grueling and pitiless opera school training that finds them, as adults, as the female and male role stars of the Beijing Opera. However, at the height of their fame, Sitou (now known as Duan Xiaolou) announces his intent to marry the sex-bomb prostitute Juxian (Gong Li). Douzi's (now known as Cheng Dieyi) obsessive jealousy and immediate dislike for Juxian leads him into the creepy arms of opera patron Yuan (Ge You) and to seek solace in opium-induced stupors. As the years pass and the old friends became increasingly estranged, they are finally, during the Gang of Four years, forced to publicly denounce each other as counter-revolutionaries. The result is humiliation and tragedy.

Kaige's mercilessly melodramatic film is an apt reflection of its operatic milieu -- obvious, vapid, and overblown. He bedecks his film in an ornate von Sternberg style as the camera shoots through gauze filters, fish tanks, and fire and enlists teeming crowd scenes and elaborate Steadicam shots like a thick canvas cloak to hang upon the clichéd and lukewarm storyline. His theme (which was what probably caused his film to be banned by the Chinese government in the early 1990s), concerning the horrors of repressing individuality to conform to the ideals at the group, bears a marked similarity to his film The Big Parade (particularly in comparing the army training scenes in that film with the opera training scenes here). But, as with The Big Parade, the hackneyed narrative clashes sharply with Kaige's emotionalism and gaudy imagery.

Kaige and his screenwriters also come up short in their usage of historical events. The film, for most of its running time, is hermetically sealed inside Beijing Opera intrigues and breast-beatings. But history intrudes upon the characters at convenient intervals merely to bludgeon forward the creaky narrative line (if Dieyi must show his loyalty to Xiaolou, the Japanese must suddenly arrive and arrest Xiaolou so that Dieyi can give a command performance to the Japanese army in order to free Xiaolou from captivity... or if the characters must be pushed into tragedy, the Red Guard suddenly arrives to do the pushing). This off-the-cuff historical ease further distances the viewer from the story, drowning motivations into a sea of historical claptrap.

What saves Farewell My Concubine is the acting, particularly Shang Fengyi's commanding performance that centers the film. Gong Li, in turn, delivers a powerhouse star turn in a large supporting role that Kaige accentuates by gracing her with a superstar entrance -- she is first seen kicking a group of horny men out of her room on the second floor of a brothel and then leaping from the heights and landing at Xiaolou's feet.

But Farewell My Concubine cannot overcome the spotty plot and weak-kneed characters. Kaige garnishes his film with too much filigree and pomp and, like his characters, hands over his script to the Gang of Four charged with counter-revolutionary pap.

Aka Ba wang bie ji.

See ya!



Farewell My Concubine

Facts and Figures

Run time: 171 mins

In Theaters: Friday 15th October 1993

Distributed by: Miramax

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 29 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 8.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Ching Dau Ji (Cheng Dieyi), as Guk Sin (Juxian), as Duen Siu Lau (Duan Xiaolou), Jiang Wenli as Yan Hong/Siu Dau Ji's mother, as Master Yuan Si Qing, Lu Qi as Master Guan, as Manager, Yi Di as Eunuch Zhang, Zhi Yitong as Aoki Saburo, Li Chun as Xiao Xi (teenager), Lei Han as Xiao Xi (adult), Fei Yang as Shitou (child), Ma Ming-Wei as Dau Ji (child), Zhao Hai-Long as Shitou (teenager), Yin Zhi as Dau Ji (teenager), Li Dan as Laizi (teenager), Yang Yong-Chao as Laizi (child)

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Advertisement
Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Sing Movie Review

Sing Movie Review

The quality of the animation in this musical comedy may not be up to Pixar...

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.