Starring: Leslie Cheung, Fengyi Zhang, Li Gong
Director: Chen Kaige
Quite a long, epic film at almost 3 hours, Farewell My Concubine is the story of two men who get to know each other as children apprenticed to the Beijing Opera, and whose changing bond over the course of 50 years is told, against the backdrop of political upheaval and one of them marrying.
A Palme D’Or winner at Cannes, this film is lush and surprising. There’s a lot in this film. One of the boys is abandoned by his prostitute mother, groomed to play female roles and harshly treated when he resists (womens roles were played by men in the Peking Opera), and later sexually abused. He finds some solace in his relationship with another boy, who plays male parts, and later they come to play a famous opera opposite each other, though his friends marriage to a prostitute causes jealousy and harm.
It’s an interesting relationship because it’s so important to both of the boys as they grow through life and go from being pushed into the Peking Opera to actively wanting to be stars, and one of them actively wanting the other. This homosexuality is surprising in a Chinese film of the era when there was a lot of censorship. Actually, the way that the political changes and repercussions are shown is also unusual because of this same censorship.
It’s a powerful film, with plenty of real, raw emotion and harshness of life against a backdrop of the theatre with it’s heightened reality and beautiful costumes. In fact, beautiful is the best word to describe this film. It’s gorgeously shot, beautifully realised, well directed, heart felt and full of turmoil and emotion without being dramatic for the sake of it.
See It If: it’s a long film, which might put off some people, but it’s well worth it. Beautiful and emotional.