Director: Kaige Chen
Cast: Leslie Cheung, Fengyi Zhang, Li Gong, Qi Lu, Da Ying, You Ge, Chun Li, Han Lei, Di Tong, Mingwei Ma, Yang Fei, Zhi Yin, Hailong Zao, Dan Li, Wenli Jiang
The story of two friends presents itself here in one of the most fascinating relationships on film, and perhaps one of the most original in the genre of historical fiction. This epic drama is the story of two Beijing opera performers bonded together at a young age through their own personal hardships as well as the daily brutal torture of operatic training.
Cheng Dieyi (Cheung), as a boy was given to the theatre troupe by his prostitute mother who was unable to care for him. Understandably sexually confused and abused, he was trained to play female roles. His close mate and 'stage brother, Xiaolou (Zhang), trained as a painted-face male lead. Later in life, when the two received stardom for their leading roles in the famous play "Farewell My Concubine," their relationship as friends became cemented as one of true brotherhood. Dieyi's love for his castmate, however, was romantic and sexual, and despite the genuinity of their relationship, those feelings were never reciprocated.
As Xiaolou courted and married an up-scale prostitute lover, Dieyi found solace in a wealthy patron by the name of Master Yuan. While the complexity of these relationships changed and melded with the many changes of the political climate of 1940-1960s China, the drama climaxes when Xiaolou is given the opportunity to save his own skin or stick up for one or both of his closest friends–his wife and Dieyi.
Critically acclaimed for being, along with The Blue Kite, one of the greatest records of China's recent history, this film speaks volumes to the heat and disparity that touched every population of China during this time. Even in the arenas of that which we often consider untouchable and glamorous, we are awakened to the brutality and betrayal within and outside these small societies.
While I could, again, not follow all of the intense political drama, I was indeed captivated and alarmed by much of the sexual and relationship complications this film offered. A sincere explosion of stimuli for both vision and sound, Farewell My Concubine is nothing short of a scrumptious spectacle.