Farewell My Concubine (film)

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Farewell My Concubine
Farewell My Concubine poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Chen Kaige
Produced by Hsu Feng
Written by Lilian Lee
Lu Wei
Based on Farewell My Concubine 
by Lilian Lee rewritten from Qiuhaitang (秋海棠) by Qin Shouou (zh:秦瘦鷗))
Starring Leslie Cheung
Zhang Fengyi
Gong Li
Music by Zhao Jiping
Cinematography Gu Changwei
Editing by Pei Xiaonan
Studio Beijing Film Studio
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release dates
  • January 1, 1993 (1993-01-01) (Hong Kong)
Running time 171 minutes
Country China
Language Mandarin
Box office $5,216,888[1]

Farewell My Concubine (simplified Chinese: 霸王别姬; traditional Chinese: 霸王別姬; pinyin: Bàwáng Bié Jī; literally "The Hegemon-King Bids Farewell to His Concubine"), a 1993 Chinese drama film directed by Chen Kaige, is one of the central works of the Fifth Generation movement that brought Chinese film directors to world attention.[2] Similar to other Fifth Generation films like To Live and The Blue Kite, Farewell My Concubine 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.

The actor Leslie Cheung was used in the film to attract audiences because melodramas are not a popular genre. Also, due to Gong Li's international stardom, she was used as the other main character in the film.[3]

Farewell My Concubine remains to date the only Chinese-language film to win the Cannes Palme d'Or.[4]

Development[edit]

The author of the novel, Lilian Lee, collaborated with Chen Kaige on the production of the script for the film version.[5]

Synopsis[edit]

Farewell My Concubine spans 53 years, presenting the lives of two men against the historical backdrop of a country in upheaval. It is about the story of Dieyi and Xiaolou and how their lives are affected by the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s and the victory of the Communists in 1949. A crowd is watching a troupe of boys from a Beijing opera training school perform in the street, supervised by their aging director, Master Guan. One of the boys, Laizi, tries to run away, and the crowd is insulted. The leader begins pushing around Master Guan. One of the troupe, Shitou, distracts the crowd by breaking a brick on his head. The crowd cheers, but Shitou is later punished for pulling such a stunt.

An onlooking mother takes her son to the troupe house to be trained as an artist, but Master Guan refuses him because of a birth defect, a superfluous finger. The mother uses a cleaver to cut off the extra finger. She signs the contract with his thumb print in blood and leaves. Shitou welcomes him as "Douzi" [Bean]. The two boys soon become good friends.

A few years pass. Laizi, craving freedom and candied crab apples, and Douzi escape, but they return after seeing a performance by an opera master that makes Laizi weep and ask how they became stars and how much they had to endure to become stars. Inspired, Laizi and Douzi return to the troupe, only to find Master Guan beating Shitou for allowing the escape. In the meantime, Laizi hides to quickly stuff his mouth with the rest of the crab apples. Douzi walks to the beating bench to accept his punishment. Master Guan begins to beat him mercilessly, but Douzi never screams although Shitou begs him to say he is sorry. Shitou charges the master, but the assistant yells for the master to come: Laizi had hanged himself.

Douzi attaches himself to Shitou and is trained to play Dan (female) roles. He practices the monologue "Dreaming of the World Outside the Nunnery." When he is to say, "I am by nature a girl, not a boy," he instead says "I am by nature a boy..." The monologue comes from the kunqu "The Record of an Evil Sea," kuhai (the Evil Sea) being a Buddhist term for a life of sorrow. Shitou learns the jing, a painted-face male lead. For punishment, Shitou forces a stick into Douzi's mouth,[6] causing his mouth to bleed. The agent begins to leave with the future of the troupe at risk. Soon enough, after he has gargled enough of his blood, a soft whisper of, "I am by nature a girl... not a boy" spills out. He had gotten his line right, and everyone cheered with happiness and a sense of relief.[1].

A while later, Douzi and Shitou perform for the Eunuch Zhang, who admired their performance and summon the boys for an audience. Shitou admires a beautiful sword in Zhang's collection, stating that if he were emperor, Douzi would be his queen. Douzi says that one day he hopes to give Shitou a sword like that. The boys are told Douzi is to meet Zhang alone, where he is given the sword.

Douzi walks in on the old man in a lascivious embrace with a young girl. Douzi is afraid as the man eyes him up and down. He wishes to find Shitou because,"I have to pee." The old man brings a glass dragon jar, tells him to pee, stares in lusty amazement at the boy's body, and reaches for him. Douzi tries to flee, but Zhang pushes him to the ground. Hours later he emerges, and Shitou cannot get him to say a word. It is clear that Douzi had been traumatized. On their way home, Douzi spies a baby abandoned in the street. Master Guan urges Douzi to leave the baby, saying "we each have our own fate, or yuanfen," but Douzi takes him in and eventually Master Guan trains him.

Memorabilia from the film exhibited at "The Art of Leslie Cheung's Movie Images", April 2013, Hong Kong Central Library.

Douzi and Shitou become stars of Beijing opera and take on the stage names Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou. The adult Dieyi is in love with Xiaolou, but the sexual aspects of his affection are not returned. When they become a hit in Beijing, a patron, Yuan Shiqing, slowly courts Dieyi. Xiaolou, in the meantime, takes a liking to Juxian, a headstrong courtesan at the upscale House of Blossoms. (Although she is later accused of being a "prostitute" in the Blossom House, she was somewhat more elevated than Dieyi's mother in the first part of the film).[citation needed] Xiaolou intervenes when a mob of drunk men harass Juxian and conjures up a ruse to get the men to leave her alone, saying that they are announcing their engagement. Juxian later buys her freedom and, deceiving him into thinking she was thrown out, pressures Xiaolou to keep his word. When Xiaolou announces his engagement to Juxian, Dieyi and Xiaolou have a falling out. Dieyi calls her "Pan Jinlian", a "dragon lady" from the novel Golden Lotus. Dieyi takes up with Master Yuan, who gives him Zhang's sword. Master Guan shames them into re-forming the troupe.

The complex relationship between these three characters is then tested in the succession of political upheavals that encompass China from the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The film also follows the fates of Na Kun, who turns his theater troupe over to the new government after 1949, and the abandoned baby, who is trained in the female roles. He is called "Xiao Si", or "Little Fourth Brother." They go through Japanese Occupation, Kuomintang administration's of the mainland, the Communist revolution in 1949, the People's Liberation Army's entrance of the city, and the Cultural Revolution's attack of the "feudal" traditional opera. (The portrayal of these events led the film to be initially banned in China.) "Xiao Si" and Douzi have an argument about "Xiao Si" training and punishment at the end of which "Xiao Si" threatens revenge. Xiao Si usurps Dieyi's role as the Concubine, a betrayal not only by Xiao Si but also by Xiaolou who has acceeded to the change without informing Dieyi. Dieyi leaves, separting himself. He becomes addicted to opium. Later, Xiaolou and Juxian help him to recover and the troup surrounds him to congratulate him on returning to health.

On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, Shitou and Juxian are seen burning now contraband literature and clothing. After a few drinks, they rekindle their relationship. The next scene shifts to Shitou being questioned by the Red Guards on a few unpatriotic words he said years ago and overheard by their manager. "Xiao Si" is seen in the background seemingly in a position of power. The Beijing opera troupe is taken out for questioning and offered a chance to repent. Under duress, Shitou confesses that Douzi performed for the Japanese and may have had a relationship with Yuan Shiqing. Douzi, enraged, tells the mob that Juxian was a prostitute. Shitou is forced to admit that he married a prostitute but swears that he doesn't love her and will never see her again for the sake of his life. Juxian is crushed to hear his words and, when given the chance to visit her, he finds her hanged. She has committed suicide from a broken heart. "Xiao Si" is seen in a gym practicing Concubine Yu's role, happy over having usurped Douzi's position. Communist cadre catch him in the act. His fate is unclear.

The film then jumps back to the first scene of their reunion in 1977. Douzi and Shitou are practicing Farewell My Concubine. Their relationship seems to have mended since the tribunal and suicide of Shitou's wife. They exchange a smile and Shitou begins with the line that gave Douzi trouble forty years ago. Douzi makes the same error of finishing the line with "I am not a girl". Shitou corrects him and they continue practicing. Douzi then commits suicide by sword in the same manner as in the play.

Cast[edit]

  • Leslie Cheung as Cheng Dieyi (程蝶衣) / Xiaodouzi (小豆子)
    • Yin Zhi as Cheng Dieyi (teenager)
    • Ma Mingwei as Cheng Dieyi (child)
  • Zhang Fengyi as Duan Xiaolou (段小樓) / Xiaoshitou (小石頭)
    • Zhao Hailong as Duan Xiaolou (teenager)
    • Fei Yang as Duan Xiaolou (child)
  • Gong Li as Juxian (菊仙 Júxiān)
  • Ge You as Yuan Shiqing (袁世卿 Yuán Shìqīng)
  • Lü Qi as Master Guan (Simplified: 关师傅, Traditional: 關師傅, Pinyin: Guān-shīfu)
  • Ying Da as Na Kun (那 坤 Nā Kūn)
  • Yidi as Eunuch Zhang (Simplified: 張公公, Traditional: 張公公, Pinyin: Zhāng-gōnggong)
  • Zhi Yitong as Saburo Aoki (青木 三郎, Chinese Pinyin: Qīngmù Sānláng, Japanese: Aoki Saburō)
  • Lei Han as Xiaosi
    • Li Chun as Xiaosi (teenager)
  • Li Dan as Laizi (Simplified: 小癞子, Traditional: 小癩子, Pinyin: Xiǎo Làizǐ)
    • Yang Yongchao as Laizi (child)
  • Wu Dai-wai as Red Guard (Simplified: 紅衛兵, Traditional: 紅衛兵, Pinyin: Hóngwèibīng)

Use of Beijing Opera[edit]

Running through the film is the Beijing opera also known as Farewell My Concubine. The opera becomes Dieyi and Xiaolou's staple act and scenes from it are performed throughout the film.

The events in the film parallel the play. The opera focuses on the loyalty of the concubine Consort Yu (aka Yuji) to Xiang Yu, Hegemon-King of Western Chu, after Xiang's defeat by Liu Bang, founder of the Han Dynasty. The transition to Han Dynasty rule parallels the transition to the People's Republic of China. The concubine's fatal devotion to her doomed king is echoed by Dieyi's devotion to Xiaolou. At one point in the film, Xiaolou snaps to Dieyi, "I'm just an actor playing a king. You really are Yuji."

Release[edit]

Box office and reception[edit]

The film was released to three theaters on October 15, 1993, and grossed $69,408 in the opening weekend. Its final grossing in the US market is $5,216,888.[1]

In 2005, some 25,000 Hong Kong cineastes voted it their favorite Chinese-language film of the century (#2 was Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild).[7]

Miramax edited version[edit]

At the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the film was awarded the highest prize, the Palme d'Or.[8] Miramax Films mogul Harvey Weinstein purchased the distribution rights and removed ten minutes. This is the version seen in U.S. theaters (and also in the U.K.) According to Peter Biskind's book, "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film", Louis Malle, who was president of the Cannes jury that year, said: "The film we admired so much in Cannes is not the film seen in this country (referring to the U.S.), which is twenty minutes shorter – but seems longer because it doesn't make any sense. It was better before those guys made cuts."

The uncut film has been released by Miramax on DVD, and is the original 171-minute version.

Accolades[edit]

  • Ranked No. 97 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[9]

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ a b http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=farewellmyconcubine.htm
  2. ^ Paul Clark, Reinventing China, p. 159; Zha, China Pop pp. 96–100. -
  3. ^ Kwok & Lau, Jenny & Wah (1995). ""Farewell My Concubine": History, Melodrama, and ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema". University of California Press 49 (1): 16–27. 
  4. ^ Blair, Gavin J. "'Farewell My Concubine' Director Chen Kaige to Head Tokyo Film Fest Jury". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  5. ^ Braester, p. 335.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 8, 1993). "Farewell My Concubine (2003) Review/Film Festival; Action, History, Politics And Love Above All". New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2011. 
  7. ^ http://www.aibai.com/infoview.php?id=12561
  8. ^ a b c "Farewell My Concubine (1993) - Awards". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 93. The Fourth Man". Empire. 
  10. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 93. The Fourth Man". Time Out Beijing and Time Out Shanghai. 
  • Braester, Yomi. Contributors: Rey Chow, Harry Harootunian, Masao Miyoshi. Painting the City Red: Chinese Cinema and the Urban Contract (Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society). Duke University Press, March 17, 2010. ISBN 0822392755, 9780822392750.
  • Clark, Paul. Reinventing China: A Generation and Its Films. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2005.
  • Zha, Jianying. China Pop : How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture. New York: New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton, 1995.
Further reading
  • Braester, Yomi. Farewell My Concubine: National Myth and City Memories. In Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes, edited by Chris Berry, 89–96. London: British Film Institute, 2003.
  • Kaplan, Ann. Reading Formations and Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine. In Sheldon Lu, ed., Transnational Chinese Cinema: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.
  • Larson, Wendy. The Concubine and the Figure of History: Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine. In Sheldon Lu, ed., Transnational Chinese Cinema: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997; also published as Bawang bieji: Ji yu lishi xingxiang, Qingxiang (1997); also in Harry Kuoshu, ed., Chinese Film, ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.
  • Lau, Jenny Kwok Wah. Farewell My Concubine': History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema. Film Quarterly 49, 1 (Fall, 1995).
  • Lim, Song Hwee. The Uses of Femininity: Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine and Zhang Yuan's East Palace, West Palace. In Lim, Celluloid Comrades: Representations of Male Homosexuality in Contemporary Chinese Cinemas. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i, 2006, 69–98.
  • Lu, Sheldon Hsiao-peng. "National Cinema, Cultural Critique, Transnational Capital: The Films of Zhang Yimou." In Transnational Chinese Cinema, edited by Sheldon Lu, 105-39. Honololu: University of Hawaii Press, 199.
  • McDougall, Bonnie S. "Cross-dressing and the Disappearing Woman in Modern Chinese Fiction, Drama and Film: Reflections on Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine." China Information 8, 4 (Summer 1994): 42–51.
  • Metzger, Sean. "Farewell My Fantasy." The Journal of Homosexuality 39, 3/4 (2000): 213–32. Rpt. in Andrew Grossman, ed. Queer Asian Cinema: Shadows in the Shade. NY: Harrington Press, 2000, 213–232.
  • Xu, Ben. "Farewell My Concubine and Its Western and Chinese Viewers." Quarterly Review of Film and Television 16, 2 (1997).
  • Zhang, Benzi. "Figures of Violence and Tropes of Homophobia: Reading Farewell My Concubine between East and West." Journal of Popular Culture: Comparative Studies in the World's Civilizations 33, 2 (1999): 101–109.

External links[edit]