Farewell My Concubine (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Farewell My Concubine
Theatrical release poster
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese霸王別姬
Simplified Chinese霸王别姬
Literal meaningThe Hegemon-King Bids Farewell to His Concubine
Directed byChen Kaige
Screenplay byLu Wei
Lilian Lee
Based onFarewell My Concubine
by Lilian Lee rewritten from Qiuhaitang (秋海棠) by Qin Shouou (zh:秦瘦鷗)
Produced byHsu Feng
CinematographyGu Changwei
Edited byPei Xiaonan
Music byZhao Jiping
Beijing Film Studio
Distributed byMiramax Films (US)
Release dates
  • 1 January 1993 (1993-01-01) (Hong Kong)
  • 15 October 1993 (1993-10-15) (United States)
Running time
171 minutes
Box office$6.1 million (US)[1]

Farewell My Concubine is a 1993 Chinese historical drama film directed by Chen Kaige, starring Leslie Cheung, Gong Li and Zhang Fengyi. Adapted for the screen by Lu Wei, based on the novel by Lilian Lee, the film is set in a politically tumultuous 20th-century China, from the early days of the Republic of China to the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. It chronicles the troubled relationships amongst two lifelong friends, the Peking opera actors Cheng Dieyi (Cheung) and Duan Xiaolou (Zhang), and Xiaolou's wife Juxian (Gong).

The film's themes include confusion of identity and blurred lines between real life and the stage, portrayed by the revered opera actor Dieyi, whose unrequited love for Xiaolou persists throughout. Commentators also noted themes of political and societal disturbances in 20th-century China, which is typical of the Chinese Fifth Generation cinema.

Farewell My Concubine premiered on 1 January 1993, in Hong Kong. Upon release the film received generally positive reviews from contemporary critics, and jointly won the Palme d'Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival,[note 1] becoming the first Chinese-language film to achieve the honour. It won further accolades, including a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and a BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language, and received two nominations at the 66th Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film.

A few weeks following its China release, the film was abruptly banned by the politburo unless and until major changes be made. While allowing a premiere in Beijing but forbidding release in other cities, the government objected to the representation of homosexuality, the suicide of a leading character and a description of the turmoil during the Communist period in China.[2]

The film was allowed to resume public showings in September 1993, less than a year after its original release. Upon its return the Chinese censors had made numerous cuts, removing 14 minutes. Chinese officials felt that a re-release, as opposed to maintaining a full ban, would silence an ever-growing international backlash and also help their bid to host the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2000.[3][4]

Farewell My Concubine is considered one of the landmark films of the Fifth Generation movement that brought Chinese film directors to world attention.[5][6] In 2005, the film was selected as one of the "100 Best Films in Global History" by Time magazine.


Douzi, a boy with feminine features, is abandoned by his prostitute mother to an all-boys Peking opera troupe supervised by Master Guan. Douzi befriends fellow trouper Shitou.

A few years later in 1938, a teenage Douzi is trained to play dan (female roles), while Shitou learns jing (painted face male roles). When practicing the play "Dreaming of the World Outside the Nunnery", Douzi intentionally mistakes the line "I am by nature a girl, not a boy" with "I am by nature a boy, not a girl," subjecting himself to severe physical punishments. Douzi along with another student, Laizi, attempt to run away, but Douzi decides to pursue acting seriously after witnessing an opera performance. Upon returning, they find the whole troupe being punished for their desertion, and Douzi is beaten. As a result, Laizi hangs himself.

An agent who provides funding for opera plays comes to the troupe to seek potential actors. When Douzi repeats the same mistake in front of the agent, Shitou commands him to start over. Douzi finally whispers, "I am by nature a girl, not a boy". He delivers the entire monologue successfully, to the joy of the troupe, and secures the agent. The troupe is invited to perform for eunuch Zhang. Shitou and Douzi are brought to Zhang's house where they find a finely crafted sword, which Shitou promises to one day gift to Douzi, as the hero would do for his concubine. Zhang asks to meet Douzi in his room and sexually assaults him. Douzi does not mention this to anyone, but Shitou implicitly knows what happened. On their way home, Douzi adopts an abandoned baby, who later comes under Master Guan's training.

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

Years go by, Douzi and Shitou become Peking opera stars under stage names Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou, respectively. Their signature performance is the play Farewell My Concubine, where Dieyi plays the concubine Consort Yu and Xiaolou plays the hero Xiang Yu. Their fame attracts the attention of Yuan Shiqing, a reputable person who attends their performances. Yuan Shiqing has come to possess the sword that Dieyi and Xiaolou found in Zhang's house, and gifts the sword to Dieyi. The adult Dieyi has an unrequited love for Xiaolou, but when Xiaolou marries Juxian, a headstrong courtesan at an upscale brothel, Dieyi and Xiaolou's relationship begins to fall apart. The love triangle between Dieyi, Xiaolou, and Juxian leads to jealousy and betrayal, which is further complicated by the successive political upheavals following the Second Sino-Japanese War. When Master Guan dies, the abandoned baby, now Xiao Si, comes under Dieyi's training to continue learning dan roles.

When the communist forces win the civil war, Xiao Si becomes an avid follower of the new government. Dieyi's addiction to opium negatively affects his performances, but he ultimately rehabilitates with the help of Xiaolou and Juxian. Xiao Si nurtures resentment against Dieyi because of his rigorous teachings and usurps his role in Farewell My Concubine during one performance, without anyone telling Dieyi beforehand. Devastated by the betrayal, Dieyi secludes himself and refuses to reconcile with Xiaolou. As the Cultural Revolution continues, the entire opera troupe is put on a struggle session by the Red Guards where, under pressure, Dieyi and Xiaolou accuse each other of counterrevolutionary acts. Dieyi also tells the guards that Juxian was a prostitute. To protect himself from further prosecution, Xiaolou swears that he does not love her and will "make a clean break" with her. Juxian is heartbroken and returns the sword to Dieyi before committing suicide. Afterward, Xiao Si is caught by the Red Guards when he is singing Consort Yu's lines to the mirror alone in a practice room.

In 1977, Dieyi and Xiaolou reunite, seeming to have mended their relationship. They once again practice Farewell My Concubine. During a break, Xiaolou begins reciting the line "I am by nature a boy," to which Dieyi makes the same mistake of finishing with "I am not a girl." The film ends with both of them finishing the rehearsal, but Dieyi takes Xiaolou's sword and cuts his own throat, paralleling the concubine's final act in the opera.


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


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 emotional 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.[7][8] The director chose the heroic suicide of Dieyi over the original story's banality in order to present the "Lie nu" image of Dieyi, to emphasize the women's liberation which was commonly found in the Fifth Generation films.[9]

Jackie Chan was originally considered for the role of Cheng Dieyi, but he declined the offer. John Lone later lobbied for the role but failed to progress past contractual negotiations with producer Hsu Feng.[10]

Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung was used in the film to attract audiences because melodramas were not a popular genre. It was believed that it was the first film where Cheung spoke Mandarin Chinese. However, for most of the movie Cheung's voice is dubbed by Beijing actor Yang Lixin. Director Chen left Cheung's original voice in two scenes, where Cheung's voice is distorted by physical and mental distress.[11] Due to Gong Li's international stardom, she was cast as one of the main characters in the film.[9]

Historical background[edit]

The historical background of the film is multi-layered and complicated, which contributes to the motif and the form of the film.[12] The 1990s period saw China trying to do damage control to the country's image after the massacre that happened during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. David Shambaugh talks about the government's new agenda that focused on "restoring the appearance of unity in the leadership, ensuring the loyalty of the military, reestablishing social order, reasserting central control over the provinces, recentralizing and retrenching the economy, and redefining China's role in a post-Cold War international environment".[13] In addition to the mentioned changes in the political climate, at the time of the film's release, the atmosphere around the criticism of Cultural Revolution shifted. As Luo Hui notes "criticizing the Cultural Revolution had become permissible, even fashionable", allowing the film to highlight the devastation in the world of art, as well as other aspects of Chinese society like medicine and education, suffered at the hands of the Cultural Revolution movement.[14]


Release in China[edit]

The film premiered in Shanghai in July 1993 but was removed from theatres after two weeks for further censorial review, and subsequently banned in August. Because the film won the Palme d'Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the ban was met with international outcry.[15] Feeling that there was "no choice" and fearing the ban hurt China's bid for the 2000 Summer Olympics, officials allowed the film to resume public showings in September. This release was censored; scenes dealing with the Cultural Revolution and homosexuality were cut, and the final scene was revised to "soften the blow of the suicide".[16]

Box office and reception[edit]

The film was released to three theaters on 15 October 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).[17]

International audience[edit]

The international perspective was put into question by critics who are concerned that the film's visual and artistic settings are too culturally inherent. On the other hand, the contents are internationally applicable. The enriching contexts, symbols and political icons are turned into colorful Oriental spectacles that arouse Westerner's fantasies. China's image is used as an object of signification, a cultural exhibition on display and a major selling point. Thus, they charge the film for dancing to the tunes set forth by the Western cultural imaginary about China.[9]

Some critics point to the fact that Chen had engineered the film to fit domestic and international audiences' taste, as Chen understands the international audience's perceptions and attitudes towards Chinese history, and sexuality.[18]

Miramax edited version[edit]

At Cannes, the film was awarded the highest prize, the Palme d'Or.[19] Miramax Films mogul Harvey Weinstein purchased distribution rights and removed fourteen minutes, resulting in a 157-minute cut. This is the version seen theatrically in the United States and United Kingdom.

According to Peter Biskind's book, Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film, Louis Malle, Cannes jury president 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.

Music and soundtrack[edit]

External videos
video icon 當愛已成往事 - YouTube
video icon 歌唱祖國 - YouTube
video icon 中国人民解放军进行曲 - YouTube
video icon 大海航行靠舵手 - YouTube
Song Type Name composer lyrics singer
Theme song Bygone Love Jonathan Lee Jonathan Lee Original Singer: Sandy Lam; Jonathan Lee
MV Director: Xueer Qu
  • Leslie Cheung covered the theme song "When Love Has Gone" in 1995.
Episode Don't get it Jonathan Lee Lin Huang Jonathan Lee
MV Director: Kaige Chen
  • "Don't get it" does not appear in this film, but is only included in "Farewell My Concubine Movie Soundtrack".
Episode Ode to the Motherland Xin Wang Xin Wang
Episode March of Chinese PLA Lvchen Zheng Mu Gong
Episode Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman Shuangyin Wang Yuwen Li


Critical reception[edit]

Roger Ebert awarded the film four stars, praising the plot as "almost unbelievably ambitious" and executed with "freedom and energy".[20] The New York Times critic Vincent Canby hailed it for "action, history, exotic color", positively reviewing the acting of Gong Li, Leslie Cheung and Zhang Fengyi.[21] In New York, David Denby criticized the "spectacle" but felt it would be worthy of excelling in international cinema, portraying a triumph of love and culture despite dark moments.[22] Hal Hinson, writing for The Washington Post, highlighted "its swooning infatuation with the theater- with its colors, its vitality and even its cruel rigors".[23] Desson Howe for the same publication was less positive, writing that the first half had impact but gives way to "novel-like meandering", with less point.[24]

The film was included in The New York Times's list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made in 2004[25] and Time's list of Best Movies of All Time in 2005.[26] It was ranked No. 97 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010,[27] and No. 1 in Time Out's "100 Best Mainland Chinese Films" feature in 2014.[7] The film has a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 48 reviews, with an average rating of 7.80/10. The critics consensus reads, "Chen Kaing's epic is grand in scope and presentation, and, bolstered by solid performances, the result is a film both horrifying and enthralling."[28] The BBC placed the film at number 12 on its 2018 list of the 100 greatest foreign language films.[29] It ranked at number 55 on the Hong Kong Film Awards Association (HKFAA)'s list of the Best 100 Chinese-Language Motion Pictures in 2005.[30] The public ranked Farewell My Concubine atop a 2005 poll of the most beloved films in Hong Kong conducted by Handerson ArtReach.[31]

Year-end lists[edit]


At the Cannes Film Festival, the film tied for the Palme d'Or with Jane Campion's The Piano from New Zealand.[24] Farewell My Concubine is the first, and as of 2023 remains the only, Chinese-language film to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes.[34]

Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
1993 Boston Society of Film Critics Best Foreign Language Film Chen Kaige Won [35]
1993 Camerimage Silver Frog Gu Changwei Won [36]
1993 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Chen Kaige Won [19]
1993 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Chen Kaige Won [37]
1993 National Board of Review Best Foreign Language Film Chen Kaige Won [38]
Top Foreign Language Films Won
1993 New York Film Critics Circle Best Foreign Language Film Chen Kaige Won [39]
Best Supporting Actress Li Gong Won
1994 Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film Chen Kaige Nominated [40]
Best Cinematography Gu Changwei Nominated
1994 British Academy Film Awards Best Film not in the English Language Hsu Feng, Chen Kaige Won [41]
1994 César Awards Best Foreign Film Chen Kaige Nominated [42]
1994 Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Language Film Chen Kaige Won [43]
1994 London Film Critics' Circle Best Foreign Language Film Chen Kaige Won [44]
1994 Mainichi Film Awards Best Foreign Language Film Chen Kaige Won [45]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Shared with The Piano


  1. ^ a b "Farewell My Concubine (1993)". Box Office Mojo. 2 November 1993. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  2. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (4 August 1993). "China Bans One of Its Own Films; Cannes Festival Gave It Top Prize". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  3. ^ "Who Makes the Rules in Chinese Movies?". The New York Times. 16 October 1993. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  4. ^ "China bids 'Farewell' to ban". Variety. 3 September 1993. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  5. ^ Clark 2005, p. 159.
  6. ^ Zha 1995, pp. 96–100.
  7. ^ a b "100 best Chinese Mainland Films: the countdown". Time Out. Archived from the original on 3 December 2019. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  8. ^ Braester 2010, p. 335.
  9. ^ a b c Lau, Jenny Kwok Wah (1995). ""Farewell My Concubine": History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema". Film Quarterly. 49 (1): 16–27. doi:10.1525/fq.1995.49.1.04a00030. ISSN 0015-1386. JSTOR 1213489.
  10. ^ "Cheung, the concubine, tiptoes past the censors". South China Morning Post. 1 January 1993. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  11. ^ Wang, Yiman (2013). Remaking Chinese cinema: through the prism of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Hollywood. ISBN 978-0-8248-7117-8. OCLC 986628712.
  12. ^ Ying, Liang. "Making the Familiar Strange and the Strange Familiar-Farewell, My Concubine and Its Crossing National Borders". US-China Foreign Language. 9: 530–538.
  13. ^ Shambaugh, David (1 January 1991). "China in 1990: The Year of Damage Control". Asian Survey. 31 (1): 36–49. doi:10.2307/2645183. ISSN 0004-4687. JSTOR 2645183.
  14. ^ Hui, Luo. (2007). "Theatricality and Cultural Critique in Chinese Cinema". Asian Theatre Journal. 25 (1): 122–137. doi:10.1353/atj.2008.0010. ISSN 1527-2109. S2CID 163055431.
  15. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (4 August 1993). "China Bans One of Its Own Films; Cannes Festival Gave It Top Prize". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  16. ^ Tyler, Patrick E. (4 September 1993). "China's Censors Issue a Warning". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  17. ^ "爱白网". Aibai.com. 28 May 2005. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  18. ^ Ying, Liang (August 2011). "Making the Familiar Strange and the Strange Familiar-Farewell, My Concubine and Its Crossing National Borders". US-China Foreign Language. 9: 530–538.
  19. ^ a b "Farewell My Concubine (1993) - Awards". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2015. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015.
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger (29 October 1993). "Farewell My Concubine". Rogerebert.com. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  21. ^ Canby, Vincent (8 October 1993). "Review/Film Festival; Action, History, Politics And Love Above All". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  22. ^ Denby, David (25 October 1993). "A Half-Century at the Opera". New York. p. 84.
  23. ^ Hinson, Hal (27 October 1993). "Farewell My Concubine". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  24. ^ a b Howe, Desson (29 October 1993). "Farewell My Concubine". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  25. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  26. ^ "Full List | Best Movies of All Time". Time. 12 February 2005. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  27. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 97. Farewell My Concubine". Empire. 11 June 2010.
  28. ^ "Farewell My Concubine (Ba wang bie ji) (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 10 October 2023.
  29. ^ "The 100 greatest foreign-language films". BBC. 30 October 2018. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  30. ^ "Best 100 Chinese-Language Motion Pictures" (in Chinese). Hong Kong Film Awards Association. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  31. ^ "'Farewell My Concubine' most appreciated in HK". China Daily. 27 May 2005. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  32. ^ Vadeboncoeur, Joan (8 January 1995). "Critically Acclaimed Best Movies of '94 Include Works from Tarantino, Burton, Demme, Redford, Disney and Speilberg". Syracuse Herald American (Final ed.). p. 16.
  33. ^ King, Dennis (25 December 1994). "SCREEN SAVERS In a Year of Faulty Epics, The Oddest Little Movies Made The Biggest Impact". Tulsa World (Final Home ed.). p. E1.
  34. ^ Blair, Gavin J. (27 August 2013). "'Farewell My Concubine' Director Chen Kaige to Head Tokyo Film Fest Jury". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 14 August 2023.
  35. ^ "Past Award Winners". Boston Society of Film Critics. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  36. ^ "Camerimage 1993". Camerimage. Archived from the original on 22 April 2017. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  37. ^ "19TH ANNUAL LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION AWARDS". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  38. ^ "1993 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  39. ^ Matthews, Jack (16 December 1993). "N.Y. Writers Pick 'List' but Bypass Spielberg : Movies: Film Critics Circle echoes its L.A. counterpart by naming 'Schindler's List' the best work of 1993 and 'The Piano's' Jane Campion best director". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  40. ^ "The 66th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  41. ^ "Film in 1994". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  42. ^ "PALMARÈS 1994 - 19 ÈME CÉRÉMONIE DES CÉSAR". Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma. Archived from the original on 19 March 2016. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  43. ^ "Farewell My Concubine". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  44. ^ Leung 2010, p. ix.
  45. ^ "49TH (1994)". Mainichi Film Awards. Retrieved 26 June 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]