Starring: Leslie Cheung, Zhang Fengyi, Gong Li
Director: Chen Kaige
Running Time: 171 mins
Farewell My Concubine is a Chinese film about the lives of two actors who, in the face of the political turmoil in China during the 20th Century, remained friends for over 50 years.
Well, I say ‘remained friends’, in reality, this film is about a very turbulent and twisting relationship about two actors whose lives mirror the opera that they perform, Farewell My Concubine (a bit like A Streetcar Named Desire in All About My Mother), and the impact of the most significant historical events during the 20th Century in China on both individuals and the Peking Opera.
So, the main part of the story is based around the two main characters, Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou, who are hugely fascinating to follow along on the epic story of their relationship. Throughout, although they are meant to be incredibly close friends, the two have such contrasting natures, which is source for much of the tension that you see during the story, and is absolutely intriguing to watch.
The other thing about them is that their characters’ development, and the way that their relationship unfolds is almost identical to the story of Farewell My Concubine, the opera. This is a brilliant bit of trickery in the screenplay, because while it is clear that their lives do mirror their famous act, it’s so subtle that it seems like either a weird coincidence or the huge influence of the opera and the story of the play on them.
Despite these two being the protagonists, it’s almost impossible to really like them. You can see that, although he’s determined and strong, Duan Xiaolou has a heart of gold, however Cheng Dieyi (played terrifyingly by Leslie Cheung), is conniving, confusing and above all, absolutely petrifying, due to his almost unhealthily undying devotion to his co-star, and he is the one that really makes this story properly dramatic and tense to follow.
Away from the characters, the theme of the impact of many of the most significant events in China on the individuals’ lives is also very interesting. The film shows this progression through history very fluidly, however it does extremely well to pinpoint the most important events and how much of an effect that they have on our main characters, whether it be their livelihood, their relationships, their wealth, or even their lives.
Finally, huge credit goes to the cinematographers and director of this film, because, despite being quite a slow-moving a tiring three-hour long epic, it’s so vibrant and exciting to look at that it manages to save your interest whenever you start to drop off, while it also embodies the cultural contrast between modern China and imperial China very well through its use of colour, so overall, this gets an 8.0 from me.