Chen Kaige cemented his international film credentials with the lush Farewell My Concubine, which presents a compendium of his expressionistic techniques and thematic concerns (striking imagery, fluid camera, emotional intensity, and, also, simple-minded historicity, banal character development, and an uninvolving narrative line).
Kaige's film charts the course of a unique romantic triangle that would even give Frank Borzage pause, following the relationship of two boyhood friends over half a century of turbulent Chinese history. After being abandoned by his prostitute mother at the Beijing Opera training school, young Douzi (Ma Mingwei as a child, Yin Shi as a teen, and Leslie Cheung as an adult) soon makes friends with the cocky Sitou (Fei Yang as a child, Yin Zhi as a teen, and Zhang Fengyi as an adult), and they both provide emotional support for the other as they undergo the grueling and pitiless opera school training that finds them, as adults, as the female and male role stars of the Beijing Opera. However, at the height of their fame, Sitou (now known as Duan Xiaolou) announces his intent to marry the sex-bomb prostitute Juxian (Gong Li). Douzi's (now known as Cheng Dieyi) obsessive jealousy and immediate dislike for Juxian leads him into the creepy arms of opera patron Yuan (Ge You) and to seek solace in opium-induced stupors. As the years pass and the old friends became increasingly estranged, they are finally, during the Gang of Four years, forced to publicly denounce each other as counter-revolutionaries. The result is humiliation and tragedy.
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