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"Farewell, My Concubine" is a movie with two parallel, intertwined stories. It is the story of two performers in the Beijing Opera, stage brothers, and the woman who comes between them. At the same time, it attempts to do no less than squeeze the entire political history of China in the twentieth century into a three-hour time-frame. Written by
Michael Kim <email@example.com>
In the streets on the eve of the Communist takeover (1948), Dieyi and Xiaolou watch the chaos unfold while seen between them in the background is Master Zhang the Eunuch. The next shot reveals Master Zhang sitting across the street from them. See more »
A lavish, opulent, and intense film; bring your lunch
As far as story and content goes this owes more than a little to The Last Emperor (1987), which is not surprising since Director Kaige Chen was a member of the cast of that film and no doubt was influenced by its success. But stylistically, and especially as the film was directed and cut, "Farewell, My Concubine" is original and stands alone. If The Last Emperor was a Western movie about the Chinese political experience in the Twentieth Century, then Farewell, My Concubine is a Chinese movie, influenced by the West, about that same experience. While the former focused on the emperor and those around him, "Farewell..." focuses on two actors of the Beijing opera.
Admittedly, "Farewell..." is long (I saw the 157-minute version) and sometimes strays from it intent, but gains and maintains power and keeps our interest mainly because everything is presented in a starkly-lit, intensely focused manner. The epic-like story itself is good if a little pedestrian at times. The lavish and stunning sets in opulent color and design, are just fascinating to view. Everything from the extras in the crowds to the porcelain for tea is carefully chosen and presented. Particularly striking are the traditional costumes and makeup, shown to advantage through the fine camera work. But what makes the film is the glimpse we get of the world of the Beijing opera and its traditions. From the Dickensian boy's school for the actors to the intrigues with patrons and the political powers that be, there's the sense of a world beyond our experience.
The acting was also excellent. The beautiful Gong Li, who played Duan's wife was captivating as she displayed a wide range of emotion. Leslie Cheung as Dieyi, "the concubine," and Fengyi Zhang as Duan, "the king," were also excellent. The boys who played the actors as children, especially the actor who played Douzi, were first rate.
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