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Tony Chiu-Wai Leung,
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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>
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. See more »
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 »
The story was touching and brilliant, packed with unforgettable scenes: The Dickens-like portrayal of the young Peking opera performers undergoing training was heart-breaking. The presence of Japanese, Nationalist and Communnist troops were powerful reminders of Modern China's torrential times. The class struggle scene was a painfully poignant reference to the inhumanity of Maoist China (especially for those Chinese old-timers who vividly remember the days of the Cultural Revolution). And off course, the last scene was nothing short of stunning. It begs the viewer to open another box of tissues.
One scene that particularly had me in tears was when Douzi was going through his opium withdrawal and he starts shivering, "It's so cold. Mother, the water's frozen." It was clearly a heart-breaking reference to the earlier days of his arduous youth.
The acting was also superb. Leslie Cheung's portrayal of the effeminate Douzi was hynoptically convincing. (Especially compared to his usual roles in HK action flicks). Gong Li constantly demands our attention with her stunning beauty and charm. Last but not least, Zhang Fengyi's portrayal of the masculine Shitou was excellent. I can't imagine anyone else taking his role.
It's refreshing to see such an intelligent and historic Chinese epic (especially after watching all those deadbrain gun-toting HK action flicks) Director Chen Kaige did a wonderful job portraying the complex and often uneasy love affair between the two stage brothers. He also managed to skillfully express profound themes that resonated throughout the film. Fate, loyalty, class struggle, the parallels between Opera and Life, and other ideas leave the viewer dazed in deep thoughts for hours after the film.
Because of the heavy references to modern Chinese events, some viewers may be confused by this film. While modern Chinese history is not a pre-requisite, I believe knowing the basics would definitely enhance the experience of this film. But nonetheless, this is quite possibly one of the best Chinese films... ever. Take it from me: Rent this one NOW!
Trivia Note: The "struggle scene" (where the Red Guards dragged out Douzi and Shitou in front of the mob for confession) was based upon the real-life experience of Director Chen Kaige. Chen suffered the same fate when he was purged during the Cultural Revolution. In fact, he denounced his own father, an act which he later regretted.
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