Farwell My Concubine Review
By Christopher Null
If you've seen one Chinese period piece, well, you'll probably feel like you've seen Farewell My Concubine, a lush epic that traces 50 years in the lives of a pair of Beijing Opera stars.
Overlong and overwrought, our heroes (played by Leslie Cheung and Fengyi Zhang during their adult years) find themselves undergoing the torture of opera training during the 1920s, find fame and fortune on the eve of the Japanese occupation during WWII, find themselves outcast as traitors following the communist revolution in the 1960s, and try to make a comeback as a kitschy nostalgia play in 1977. Zhang takes the butch role of the king in the titular opera, while Cheung plays like a girl. Bisexuality is hinted at, never shown. Beatings are plentiful, as is that semi-off-key Chinese operatic warbling (which, I might add, gets old after 2 1/2 hours...)
Laden with nuance about Chinese history (and sort of explained in subtitles), much of Concubine will be lost on Western audiences, but it's still an admirable film, full of richness and beauty. The story could have stood some trimming, but it's hard to agree that the trite Belle Epoque deserved the 1993 foreign film Oscar more than Concubine.
Aka Ba wang bie ji.
Facts and Figures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Cast & Crew
Also starring: Leslie Cheung, Fengyi Zhang, Gong Li, Qi Lu, Da Ying, You Ge, Chun Li, Han Lei, Di Tong, Mingwei Ma, Yang Fei, Feng Hsu, Lillian Lee, Wei Lu