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Farewell My Concubine More at IMDbPro »Ba wang bie ji (original title)

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7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

I feel like I have to apologize for not liking this movie

Author: Daniel R. Baker from United States
27 February 2003

The basics: two young Chinese boys go to opera school together in the 1920s, and grow up to become big stars. Their lives revolve around their specialty act, the classic Chinese opera, `Farewell My Concubine,' to such a degree that their offstage life begins to reflect their onstage one (shades of `I Pagliacci').

Everybody loves FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE but me. And I can certainly see why they love it: it is an epic view of the story of China's 20th century, magnificently shot. All the same, it leaves me cold for much the same reason that another epic, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, did. It is chiefly the story of what happens to the protagonists, not the story of what they do.

This is also why, again unlike everybody else, I like the second half of this movie better than the first. The second half has Gong Li in it, who (in addition to making the film more beautiful, as she would any film) is the most dynamic character present, the one who most determinedly takes her destiny in hand. It has the courtroom scene, which is the only one where Daeyi tries (and fails) to influence his own fate. And it has the Cultural Revolution scene, where Shitou finally makes an important decision with immediate, and tragic, results.

The first half, on the other hand, I found almost unwatchable. Behind disgustingly coarse subtitles, we are forced to endure scene after scene of little boys being tortured. I just don't enjoy that sort of thing, and I frankly feel uncomfortable about those who do. It might be different if the torture actually had a purpose, if the kids were suffering in order to achieve something, but it is made deliberately and brutally clear that this is not the case: the teachers act with the same sadism toward both the good and the bad students, and think nothing of completely destroying their precious talent by maiming them, killing them, or driving them to suicide. Furthermore, the first half appears to portray Daeyi's homosexuality as being something he learned in his youth. This does not accord with scientific observation, which clearly suggests that homosexuality is not a learned behavior.

I admit I am being cynical here, but I believe that Daeyi's homosexuality has given this movie a popularity with the faux intelligentsia that it would not enjoy otherwise. Many who would denounce the love triangle as cliché if it consisted of two men in pursuit of the same woman will claim to suddenly find the formula interesting when, as in this case, it consists of a man and a woman in pursuit of the same man. After all, this movie dares to ask the question, if a straight woman and a gay man both love a straight man, which will he choose? What do you mean, you guessed already? This is a Great Dramatic Question, dammit!

My first exposure to Chinese opera was from Zhang Yimou's RAISE THE RED LANTERN, where I found the performance of the opera singer quite enchanting. I'm afraid I did not enjoy the operatic element of this movie nearly as much. To my Western ear, Daeyi's singing voice sounds grating. The masks generally look grotesque. The acrobatics, I admit, were very impressive, lending an energy to the performance that Western opera would benefit from. But for me, opera will always stand or fall on the vocal performances, and those were lacking. This is probably another reason I didn't enjoy the movie: if I had felt the beauty of the opera as many Chinese do, and could have shared the two principals' passion for it, I wouldn't have found the experience of the movie so unmoving.

Rating: ** out of ****.

Recommendation: What can I say? Everybody else enjoys it; don't mind me.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Opera and the Narcissism of Master Yuan

Author: Lynn Zhuang from China
28 December 2011

Most genuine is the parallel between opera and life. This is not alien to Chinese people but people in other culture are not familiar with this concept. Chinese people deem our life in other way is an opera and everyone has his own role. Tears, laughter, sorrow, anger, despair are the various emotions in the opera and the various experiences in life. Most important this concept is associated with the emptiness of life. Everything would be gone, just like an opera would end somehow.

Despite the emptiness opera is so beautiful and stands for the delicacy and refinement of art. In the film Dieyi and Yuan performs their desperate love towards Opera, indicating their pursuit for the true, the good and the beautiful.

Dieyi is a pure man pursuing his ideal both in art and in the real world. Yuan is not as perfect. He is a sophisticated speculator, and has struggled for wealth and fame for his whole life. But he is so obsessed with opera for it is perfect beauty. Dieyi is the incarnation of the beauty which he is dying for. In his pursuing for, protecting, and admiring Dieyi in spite of the others' disliking him and misunderstanding, we see respectable humanness.

First time he saw Dieyi he can sense that he is not welcomed. But as a gentleman he expressed his admiration and then left. His directness and decisiveness shows his confidence as well, with a clear mind that he has something else what would win Dieyi's heart, other than money.

His argument with Xiaolou on the opera performance shows his insist on art, independent thinking, and his knowledge in opera, and is a foreshadowing for his own competition with Xiaolou.

Xiaolou got married and Dieyi was not happy and desperate. Yuan came comforting Dieyi and took him away. Or we say this time Dieyi followed him. He fulfilled his dream to perform the opera together with Dieyi although without any spectator. In his house Dieyi saw the sword and Yuan gives it away unconditionally. He knows Dieyi would leave anyway with the sword, but he never complains, but just gives what he has, to help fulfill Dieyi's dream.

Later when Dieyi performed on stage he was interrupted by anti-Japanese leaflet. But Dieyi insisted to complete the performance. In the darkness only Yuan was watching. He really understands what Dieyi insists on, that is the independence of art in spite of any political or racial view.

When Dieyi was on trial for betraying his country, it is Yuan that help secure Dieyi. He asks for nothing in return but wants to argue with Xiaolou for the previous performance issue. This is the first time he tries to prove others his pursuit for art. Before that he only did this with Dieyi. We can say he compels Xiaolou, or is willful.

He loves Dieyi but doesn't want to occupy him. He lets Dieyi free and is there to protect him. This is unselfish and unconditional, and is different from the romantic love. Or we can say, the love for Dieyi is also his love for the purity of life and the beauty. He saw a Dieyi that lives out his beliefs and values, to some extent Dieyi is another Yuan in Yuan's eyes, standing for the part of Yuan that is free to pursue love and beauty.

He loves Dieyi but doesn't want to occupy him. He lets Dieyi free and is there to protect him. This is unselfish and unconditional, and is different from the romantic love. Or we can say, the love for Dieyi is also his love for the purity of life and the beauty. He saw a Dieyi that lives out his beliefs and values, to some extent Dieyi is another Yuan in Yuan's eyes, standing for the part of Yuan that is free to pursue love and beauty.

Yuan was executed in the end. Before he died he defends the opera art at a price of his life. He can die without pity, for he finally carries out his value. He never is able to perform on the stage, for he can't be a pure artist, but the execution of him brings him onto the stage, on the last day of his life. How ridiculous this is. The world has become insane. Yuan knows it pretty well and stepped onto the stage with ease.

Yuan was executed in the end. Before he died he defends the opera art at a price of his life. He can die without pity, for he finally carries out his value. He never is able to perform on the stage, for he can't be a pure artist, but the execution of him brings him onto the stage, on the last day of his life. How ridiculous this is. The world has become insane. Yuan knows it pretty well and stepped onto the stage with ease.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A Chinese Cinema Masterpiece

Author: Desertman84 from United States
2 December 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Farewell My Concubine is a Chinese film that stars Leslie Cheung, Gong Li and Zhang Feng-Yi together with Lu Qi, Ying Da, Ge You and David Wu. It is similar to other Fifth Generation films like To Live and The Blue Kite, the movie 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 troupe and the woman who comes between them.The film is an adaptation of the novel by Lilian Lee. Lilian Lee is also one of the film's screenplay writers.It was directed by Chen Kaige.

Not many people were aware that most members of the Peking Opera were originally orphans or illegitimate castaways with nowhere else to turn. Such is the case of Duan Xiaolou and Cheng Dieyi, two homeless outcasts, trained from childhood in the grueling rigors of the Opera by master Lu Qui in the film.It traces the 52-year friendship between Xiaolou and Dieyi, a friendship pockmarked with fiery conflicts and tender reconciliations. Though the delicate Dieyi specializes in female roles and the gutsy Xiaolou plays noble warriors, theirs is an essentially heterosexual relationship; still, when Xiaolou takes upon himself a prostitute bride, Dieyi is as petty and jealous as an outcast mistress.

Farewell, My Concubine holds the viewer in thrall from start to finish; as such, it is thoroughly deserving of its many international film awards and nominations.No question that this is a classic film on its own as it has all the elements of a great film.The performances were brilliant and outstanding especially that of Gong Li.It was visually stunning as well.The screenplay was intelligent and outstanding while the characters are emotionally involving as the viewer will care and sympathize with them.And most of all,the direction of Chen Kaige is superb and marvelous.I give this film a very high recommendation as a must-see movie.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Beautiful, Epic, Tragic

Author: Mario64 from Minnesota
6 November 2011

Farewell My Concubine is a glorious epic about two friends over the span of many decades. Together they go through the horrors of opera school as children in the 1920's, and then Opera stars during the Japanese invasion of China in the 30's, the Communist takeover in the 40's, and the Cultural Revolution of the 60's. Between them is the wife of one and a former prostitute, Juxian, played by Gong Li. The relationship among the three is often very complex, and goes through plenty of turmoil, but Dieyi and Xiaolou and the Beijing Opera somehow stay together.

This movie to put it simply is beautiful, particularly during the opera scenes. It's one of the most pleasing movies just to look at that I have seen in some time. It's also beautifully told. With so much ambition it could have been way too complex for someone not familiar with the history to understand, but it's actually quite direct and flows fantastically from one section to another.

The two acting leads do good jobs, but it's Gong Li that stands out. Her character evolves greatly at first from dislike of Dieyi to sympathy and even tenderness. In her marriage to Xialou she wants him to quit Opera, but eventually accepts it and sees it as a necessary part of his life. Gong Li is the main heart and soul of the film, and this is the best acting work I have seen from her.

This certainly stands as one of the five best Chinese language films I have ever seen. It's not completely flawless, some of the earlier scenes I think are a bit heavy-handed, but overall this epic and tragic story for friendship and love is a must see.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

An obsolete art form becomes fascinatingly alive through the medium of film.

Author: Eternality from Singapore
3 February 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It is near impossible for anyone who admires Chinese cinema to profess a distaste for this film. Without a doubt, Farewell My Concubine is arguably director Chen Kaige's most famous and critically-acclaimed work. Perhaps the second best known filmmaker to emerge from China after Zhang Yimou (Ju Dou, 1990; Raise the Red Lantern, 1991) in the late eighties, Chen often has to perform in the shadow of his ex-cinematographer. But it is Farewell My Concubine that finally landed him the accolade he so deserved – the Palme d'Or from Cannes, and the fame that resulted from it.

Farewell My Concubine stars two actors at the top of their game – Leslie Cheung and Zhang Fengyi. They play two opera singers who enthrall countless legions of fans with their skillful rendition of the opera which the film is named after. Cheung plays "The Concubine", a feminine character of grace and elegance while Zhang plays "The Gangster King" who is forced to leave his concubine and escape from an invading army. Chen's film chronicles the friendship and struggles of the actors who play these two characters over a span of more than half a century, with China's tumultuous modern history set as the temporal backdrop.

Farewell My Concubine begins on a very impressive note with its first hour being one of the most compelling examples of the hypnotic power of great Chinese cinema. The consequence of such a potent beginning is that the film's power would start to fade, and this is evident from a second act that occasionally meanders due to the film's loose narrative structure, which could be improved upon with tighter editing. Maybe there isn't this issue with the theatrical version, which runs about twenty minutes shorter.

Nevertheless, Farewell My Concubine is still highly engaging, and an eye opener even for Chinese viewers, let alone Western audiences. The cultural value of Chen's film is highly obvious with its very detailed depiction of the intricateness and artistic elaboration of the Peking Opera style as much a revelation as it is striking. Coupled with the traditional use of percussion and suona (a high-pitched Chinese trumpet), the opera sequences open the door to a mystical experience never before felt on the big screen. In other words, an obsolete art form becomes fascinatingly alive through the medium of film.

Chen's direction is supreme. His mastery of tracking shots, handling of large crowds, and eye for period detail are impeccable. His treatment of the film's story is also well-handled despite some of its flaws. But strangely, even though the acting is strong, there is still not enough emotional pull to make us fully empathize with the characters, most notably that of Gong Li's. She plays a classy prostitute who after coaxed by Zhang's character, falls in love and marries him, an act that causes tremendous strain on his friendship with Cheung's character.

Banned in China for some time because of its negative portrayal of communism and its implicit homosexual content, Farewell My Concubine remains to be Chen's finest hour as a filmmaker. In some ways similar to Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987), this epic spans across five decades and is a splendid showcase of the exemplary use of color and lighting to tell what is one of the most memorable stories to emerge from nineties Chinese cinema.

GRADE: A- ( All rights reserved.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

By far. The very best of Chinese film

Author: Blueberry Pancake from Australia
2 December 2010

This is, without the doubt, the very best of Chinese film making, acting and story telling. I didn't watch this movie only until last year, and there are no words were powerful enough to express my feelings. The acting were flawless, and the emotion in the entire film were so real and strong, you'll feel so attached the whole time. Leslie is the one and only actor who can fully deliver the role of ChengDieYi, and his work in this film is remarkable. A true milestone performance of his career and film acting. The story, The history, The culture, The acting!!!

A must see film!!!

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A Chinese version of Once Upon A Time in America

Author: dreaujyc from Ji'nan China
30 March 2009

Most of Chinese movies made nowadays are strange to western viewers, except some kongfu action movies which are pictured almost the same way. It is commonly believed that kongfu movies are brought to try to amuse Oscars; they are tasted just like McDonald's and with little value to us.

But Ba Wang Bie Ji (farewell ,my concubine) is fairly thought as an excellent movie made by native Chinese director (unfortunately it is his only masterpiece, I think).The other day at a famous movie fan website of China, 95% or more voted it for the best Chinese movies all time with another two or three.

Regular viewers of IMDb could not probably understand what the movie is about.The name of this movie comes from a play of Beijing Opera, the Beijing Opera is usually adapted from old Chinese history, of which are well-known by Chinese people.

In this tragic story happened in the end days of Qin Dynasty, a fistful of heroes chase the power. Xiang Yu (Ba Wang) is the most heroic and romantic one. But finally he is defeated by his cunning rival Liu Bang who is the founder of Han, what Chinese ethnic majority names after. In an intense battle where Ba Wang is embattled, his army is totally destroyed, his beloved mistress, Yu Ji, tries to persuade him to run away and come back with recruited armies. Ba Wang refuses to leave her, so she kills herself to let her man leave. This is not a complicated story but much too tragic and touching (Ba Wang kills himself too as he is too shameful to go back to his hometown).

In the movie, the opera adapted from the old story was performed in early time of Republic China, when the country was in a mode of civil war and natural disasters. As a tradition of the Beijing Opera, actors playing feminine roles were all males.Sometimes they were mentally displaced by considering himself a woman.Die Yi devoted "herself" into the opera and fell in love with the hero Ba Wang performed by Xiao Lou, and that was why this is not a gay movie.

It was long ago before the last time I saw it, and I barely remembered plenty of details of the plot. But one thing impressed me was the mix of modern-history and life between the roles and actors.In one word, it is not just an excellent opera of the ancient tragedy but a real story about the actor and "actress". Xiao Lou and his "woman" experienced the regime of Japanese and civil war and he actually married a woman as his real wife. The play is so well-known and popular that even the communists allowed them to go on playing.

During the Culture Revolution, many people were insulted and abused if they were suspected to have connection with capitalistic enemies or simply categorized as counter-revolutionists. Die Yi was also humiliated and tortured at public because "she" once performed for the Japanese invaders to rescue Xiao Lou during WWII.As it usually happened those days, the one who was judged as counter-revolutionist would be rejected by his family and friends. Xiao Lou was too scared to speak for Die Yi, "she" finally killed her self on the stage where she was so popular during a temporary rehearsal with Xial Lou, as the role did to herself 2000 years ago.

It might be a coincidence Leslie Cheung killed himself ten years later after the movie hit the screen,which was anther tragedy adding to the whole story lasting for 2000 years.

Ba Wang Bie Ji is seldomly the movie which is widely accepted both by Chinese and foreigners, it contains much about history and modern revolutionary activities, and it is so tightly connecting the fabrication and reality,with childhood and adulthood,romance and betrayal, dream and consciousness, life and love, a bridge over old and modern China,even the final destiny of the actress on stage and actor on screen.

There's only one movie that can compare to it in the world

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Perhaps too ambitious

Author: bandw from Boulder, CO
27 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film follows two Beijing opera stars (stage names Cheng and Duan) from their youth in 1924 to a final performance in 1977. Cheng is somewhat effeminate and plays women in the performances, most notably the woman in the traditional opera "Farewell My Concubine." Cheng is gay and in love with Duan who is classically masculine; Duan's feelings for Cheng do not go beyond friendship. Things between the two go along well until Juxian enters the picture as Duan's lover and subsequent wife. The story revolves around the complex emotional interplay between these three, played out against dramatic historical events.

The history of China in the years covered would require a shelf full of books, but this movie concentrates on three eras: "The Warlord Era" in the 1920s, the Japanese occupation of Beijing during WWII (and its aftermath), and the Cultural Revolution during the Mao era. The interweaving of the personal stories with the themes of the opera "Farewell My Concubine," together with the historical events, is cleverly done. The telling of this epic runs to 171 minutes on the DVD.

In keeping with its operatic theme this movie has an overture that sets the tone and piques your curiosity about what is to come. This sequence seemed artificial to me until I understood its intent.

Most everyone will be impressed with the sumptuous color cinematography. The opera scenes are impressively filmed and, while I could appreciate the artistry involved, being primarily attuned to Western culture prevented my being captivated on an emotional level as I was, for example, by the operatic scenes in "Amadeus." Cheng's singing sounded more like the harsh screeching of a cat than anything that would engage me. The atonal music and highly stylized acting in the operas were interesting as artistic phenomena of a foreign culture, but it would take significant exposure for me to ever truly enjoy such, if that were even possible.

The extent to which this movie offers history lessons is not clear to me, nor is it clear how much is intended. During the 1920s the focus is on Cheng and Duan's training as young boys under the tutelage of a sadistic taskmaster. The child abuse is so graphic that some may be tempted to avert their eyes. Was the brutal treatment of the boys a symbol of the brutality of the era? I don't know. The political pressures of the Cultural Revolution must have been extreme in order to provoke the personal denunciations we see toward the end.

One thing I found odd was that, while the characters must be at least sixty years old by the end, they look like they are still in their 30s.

I admire this movie for its ambition and could appreciate it on an intellectual and artistic basis, but its epic sweep and cultural differences kept me at a distance.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Absolutely the best Chinese movie

Author: tonyyunhanhu from China
20 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I grow up in mainland China, and this one is absolutely the best Chinese movie I've ever watched. Ba Wang Bie Ji is the kind of movie that you respect paramountly, but you could hardly be courageous enough to watch it again.( Like I've watched the trilogy of Batman dozens of times) What this movie interprets is too grave for anyone who's been through those historic tragedy to bear. I just couldn't continue to watch it when those tiny little kids were punished to death, when the terror that Japanese invasion brought engulfing the whole city, when the loving couples were forced to betray each other...After watching this movie, I felt an indescribable sorrow surrounding me. I will tell anyone asking me about this movie that it is definitely a great epic, but probably I'm not going to watch it anymore.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

A flawed masterpiece

Author: p-seed-889-188469 from New Zealand
8 August 2014

I have had a great deal of trouble writing this review. Every time I make a start I can find nothing to get my teeth into and no coherent thread to interconnect my thoughts. While there are many potential sub-topics they all seem to stand in isolation. While this may simply be a reflection of my inability to string two sentences together I think in this case it pretty accurately summarizes the issues I have with this movie.

It is difficult to figure out what this movie is and if asked to summarise it in 25 words or less I would be flummoxed. Is it a Chinese history movie? An opera movie? A Chinese culture lesson? A love story? A story of betrayal? A story of pseudo or actual homosexuality? It is snippets of all of these and probably more, but it does not really do justice to any of them. Basically it suffers from multiple personality disorder and unfortunately we don't get enough time with any of them to relate to any of them. Yes, the history and cultural aspects are interesting in their way but don't really add anything to our understanding of the horrors of the Japanese invasion of China, the Nationalist/Communist struggle, the early Communist era and the later Cultural Revolution. Yes, it is a "love story" between the two actors who play the King and the Concubine, but we never experience any passion or come anywhere close to connecting to either of these characters to really care. The "King" character in particular is very undeveloped, little more than a cardboard cut-out who happens to be the object of the "Concubine's" unrequited love. The character played by Gong Li is also skin deep and we never really care about her or her relationship with the "King" actor – indeed the random and non-sensical way in which these two characters become engaged simply nukes any credibility that this relationship might have had, and by extension destroys the credibility of any other relationship on the movie, most importantly the pivotal one between the "King" and the "Concubine". The betrayal, which I gather meant something personal to the director, is dealt with too curtly to have any effect at all. The character of the "son", raised from an abandoned baby, is totally illogical and we simply don't get to know him well enough to care about him or understand why he would possibly want to betray his adoptive parents. It all just seems facile and silly. We never really understand (or at least, I don't) the "homosexual" overtones of the "Concubine". Was he simply beaten into a form of insanity in which he thinks he is always in character as a woman? Is he actually a homosexual? His "king" friend seems to be too thick to understand the "Concubine's" feelings for him and this to me trivializes the whole "affair". And to be honest, none of the characters come across as being particularly nice, in fact the Concubine character comes across more as a petty, whinny, jealous, lightweight flake than a tragic figure we could weep for.

OK, just because a film is not perfect doesn't mean you should not watch it. "Farewell My Concubine" is one of those films which is a "must see" despite its failings. If it falters as an emotionally satisfying and coherent movie it is a stunning technical tour de force and a masterpiece of its kind. Just to have made a movie of this scope is an achievement, almost to the point that its success is secondary, crazy as that may sound. It is a movie of such breadth that it is impossible to take in completely in one sitting, and that is perhaps the ultimate test – you know you need to see it again to understand it but can you care enough about it to make that effort? But – trust me - you need to see this movie – your education as a movie goer is incomplete unless you do. You will enjoy it, and you will be moved to have an opinion, one way or the other.

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