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Farewell My Concubine Movie Review

film douzi love juxian

1993 – Chen Kaige –

Perhaps everyone at some point has believed that he or she was delivered into this world for some particular purpose. Fate. Fortune. Destiny. Whatever it is called, it is a major theme in Farewell My Concubine. For some of the film's characters, the acceptance of fate is as natural as breathing; for others it is a lifelong struggle, but for all it is the force that drives their lives and the history of their country.

Farewell My Concubine spans fifty years of Chinese history from a time when feudalism still held the country in its weakening grip through occupation by the Japanese and the subsequent rise of Communist power to the Cultural Revolution. On its way, the film tells the tragic story of two young boys, abandoned to the Peking Opera, who form a friendship that is lifelong and ultimately ill-fated. Although all the other boys in the Peking Opera endure the same abusive and unrelenting training, Douzi (Leslie Cheung) and Shitou (Zhang Fengyi) are special. They are destined to play the parts of the Concubine and the King in a traditional and beloved opera, and they become pampered celebrities. From the time they are small children, their lives and emerging personalities are controlled by external forces. The opera itself is one of those forces as their lives parallel those of the characters they play, thus rendering them unable effectively to handle the unscripted conflicts that arise in the offstage world. But fate is not a thing to be trifled with. A scene that proves the point is one in which Douzi and Shitou find an abandoned infant. Although their wise old guardian tells them to leave the child, they take the baby home, and that child grows to be an active force in the destruction of their beloved opera and their lives.

The romance in Farewell My Concubine takes the form of a triangle. The delineation between the genders is confused early for Douzi (who has changed his name to Cheng Dieye) when he is groomed to play the female role of the concubine. Unable to completely separate himself from the character he plays, he falls in love with his childhood companion and stage brother (now known as Duan Xiaolou) and makes no effort to mask his hostility when Xiaolou marries the prostitute Juxian (Gong Li). While there is no question about Dieye's love for Xiaolou and jealousy of Juxian, the relationship between Xiaolou and Juxian is less clear. It is hard to tell if they marry for love, or for convenience, or some combination of the two. But no matter what their reasons for getting married, the marriage becomes one of love and faithfulness, and Juxian manages to accept and support both men despite Dieye's open animosity toward her.

Evocative and poetic, Farewell My Concubine raises profound questions and then leaves them hanging, unanswered—as life itself all too often does. The film presents heroes who are tossed, powerlessly from tragedy to tragedy in a cruel world, their suffering relieved only briefly by instances of beauty and love born of the very cruelty that seems fated to destroy them.

Cast: Leslie Cheung (Cheng Dieye/Douzi), Zhang Fengyi (Duan Xiaolou/Shitou), Gong Li (Juxian), Lu Qi (Master Guan), Ying Da (Manager), Ge You (Master Yuan), Li Dan (Laizi), David Wu (Red guard), Jiang Wenli (Douzi's mother), Tong Di (Zhang), Li Chun (young Xiao Si), Lei Han (Xiao Si), Ma Mingwei (Douzi as a child), Fei Yang (Shitou as a child) Screenwriter: Lillian Lee, Lu Wei Cinematographer: Gu Changwei Composer: Zhao Jiping Producer: Hsu Feng for Tomson Films, Artificial Eye, China Film, and Beijing Film; released by Miramax MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 157 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1994: Nominations: Best Cinematography, Foreign Language Film; Cannes Film Festival, 1993: Golden Palm; Golden Globe Awards, 1994: Best Foreign Language Film; New York Film Critics Circle Awards, 1993: Best Supporting Actress (Gong Li) Box Office: $5.2M (domestic gross).

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