Farewell My Concubine (film)

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Farewell My Concubine
Farewell My Concubine poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Traditional 霸王別姬
Simplified 霸王别姬
Mandarin Bàwáng Bié Jī
Literally The Hegemon-King Bids Farewell to His Concubine
Directed by Chen Kaige
Produced by Hsu Feng
Screenplay 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)
Music by Zhao Jiping
Cinematography Gu Changwei
Edited by Pei Xiaonan
Beijing Film Studio
Distributed by Miramax Films (US)
Release date
  • January 1, 1993 (1993-01-01) (Hong Kong)
  • October 15, 1993 (1993-10-15) (United States)
Running time
171 minutes
157 minutes (US - Theatrical release only)
Country China
Language Mandarin
Box office $5,216,888[1]

Farewell My Concubine is a 1993 Chinese drama film directed by Chen Kaige. It 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, the affected are two male stars in a Peking opera troupe and the woman who comes between them.

The film is an adaptation of the novel by Lilian Lee, who is also one of the film's screenplay writers. Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung was used in the film to attract audiences because melodramas are not a popular genre. (Cheung's voice is dubbed by Beijing actor Yang Lixin.) Due to Gong Li's international stardom, she was cast as one of the main characters in the film.[3]

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


Chen Kaige was first given a copy of Lilian Lee's novel in 1988, and although Chen found the story of the novel to be "compelling", he found the emotion subtext of the novel "a bit thin". After meeting with Lee, they recruited Chinese writer Lu Wei for the screenplay, and in 1991 the first draft of the screenplay came about.[5][6]


As the film opens, a street crowd watches a troupe of boys perform Peking opera, supervised by their aging director, Master Guan. When Laizi attempts to run away, Shitou placates the crowd by breaking a brick on his head; the crowd cheers, but Shitou is later punished for the stunt. An onlooking mother brings her son to the troupe to be trained, using a cleaver to amputate her child's objectionable superfluous finger, and marking the contract with her thumb print in the blood. Shitou welcomes the newcomer as "Douzi" (bean), and the two boys become friends.

A few years pass. Laizi and Douzi run away, but witness a performance by an opera master that inspires them to return to the troupe. They find Shitou being beaten for allowing their escape, and Douzi accepts his punishment as Master Guan beats him mercilessly. Shitou tries to intervene, when an assistant informs them that Laizi has hanged himself.

Douzi attaches himself to Shitou and is trained to play dan (female) roles. Shitou learns the jing, a painted-face male lead. Douzi practices the monologue "Dreaming of the World Outside the Nunnery" but mistakes the line "I am by nature a girl, not a boy" and instead says "I am by nature a boy...". He repeats this mistake, doing so in front of an agent who might fund the troupe. Shitou viciously jams Master Guan's brass tobacco pipe in Douzi's mouth as punishment,[7] causing his mouth to bleed. Douzi looks dazed, but whispers, "I am by nature a girl... not a boy." The troupe cheer, having secured the agent.[8]

The eunuch Zhang appreciates their performance and summons Shitou and Douzi for an audience. Shitou admires a beautiful sword in Zhang's collection, stating that if he were emperor, Douzi would be his queen. Douzi responds that one day he hopes to give Shitou a sword like that. Douzi is to meet Zhang alone, and catches him in a lascivious embrace with a young girl. Douzi is afraid as the man eyes him up and down, and seeks to be with Shitou, but Zhang catches him and pushes him to the ground. Hours later he emerges, and Shitou cannot get him to say a word. It is clear that Douzi has been sexually assaulted. On their way home, Douzi spies an abandoned baby, and despite Master Guan's urging that "we each have our own fate (yuanfen)" Douzi rescues the baby 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 Peking opera stars under 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 takes a liking to Juxian, a headstrong courtesan at the upscale House of Blossoms. Xiaolou intervenes when a mob of drunk men harass Juxian and says 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 their engagement, 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. An aged 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, called "Xiao Si" (little fourth brother), who is trained in dan roles. Xiao Si and Douzi have an argument about training and punishment at the end of which Xiao Si threatens revenge. The role of the Concubine is usurped by Xiao Si with Xiaolou's complicity. Betrayed, Dieyi leaves and becomes addicted to opium. Later, Xiaolou and Juxian help him to recover and the troupe surrounds him to congratulate his return 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 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 entire opera troupe is taken out in public for a humiliating struggle session by the Red Guards. Under duress, Shitou confesses that Douzi performed for the occupying Japanese and may have had a relationship with Yuan Shiqing. Enraged, Douzi 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. Juxian is crushed to hear his words and commits suicide. Xiao Si is seen in a gym practicing Concubine Yu's role, happy over having usurped Douzi's position, but the group of Red Guards catch him in the act and his fate is unclear.

The film then jumps to Douzi and Shitou's reunion in 1977. They are practicing Farewell My Concubine, and 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.


  • 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: 张公公, 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: 红卫兵, Traditional: 紅衛兵, Pinyin: Hóngwèibīng)


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 film-enthusiasts voted it their favorite Chinese-language film of the century (the second was Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild).[9]

Miramax edited version[edit]

At the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the film was awarded the highest prize, the Palme d'Or.[10] Miramax Films mogul Harvey Weinstein purchased the distribution rights and removed fourteen minutes, resulting in a 157-minute cut. 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 [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 171-minute version has been released by Miramax on DVD.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Farewell My Concubine (1993)". Box Office Mojo. 1993-11-02. Retrieved 2016-02-03. 
  2. ^ Paul Clark, Reinventing China, p. 159; Zha, China Pop pp. 96–100. -
  3. ^ Lau, Jenny Kwok Wah (1995). ""Farewell My Concubine": History, Melodrama, and ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema". University of California Press. 49 (1): 16–27. JSTOR 1213489. 
  4. ^ Blair, Gavin J. "'Farewell My Concubine' Director Chen Kaige to Head Tokyo Film Fest Jury". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  5. ^ a b "100 best Chinese Mainland Films: the countdown". Time Out. 
  6. ^ Braester, Yomi (2010). Painting the City Red: Chinese Cinema and the Urban Contract. Durham [NC]: Duke University Press. p. 335. ISBN 9780822392750. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Nepstad, Peter (2004-03-30). "Asian Cinema Reviews: Farewell My Concubine". The Illuminated Lantern. Retrieved 2016-02-03. 
  9. ^ "爱白网". Aibai.com. 2005-05-28. Retrieved 2016-02-03. 
  10. ^ a b c "Farewell My Concubine (1993) - Awards". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  12. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 97. Farewell My Concubine". Empire. 
  13. ^ "Full List | Best Movies of All Time". Time. 12 February 2005. Retrieved 14 March 2016. 
  14. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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. Honolulu: 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]