Sunday, 14 April 2013

Farewell My Concubine (1993) – ★★★★★

farewell-my-concubine Director: Kaige Chen
Writers: Bik-Wa Lei, Pik Wah Li (Novel and Screenplay)
Stars: Leslie Cheung, Fengyi Zhang, Li Gong, Zhi Yin, Hailong Zhao

Farewell my Concubine is undoubtedly one of the greatest movies ever made. It spans throughout 5 decades of chinese history, and follows one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever seen. It’s costumes are spectacular and the cinematography is brilliant. What makes this one of the greatest movies ever made is the acting. For me, there were no actors in this movie, only the characters. It is a class of acting that you seldom see in Western cinema. If you won’t watch the film on the heart-wrenching story alone, then watch it for one of the greatest performances of all time by Leslie Cheung.

This is the story of two men, Douzi (Leslie Cheung) and Shitou (Fengyi Zhang), who met as apprentices in the Peking Opera, and remained in contact for over 50 years. Both of them grew up to star in the opera ’Farewell My Concubine,’ where Douzi played the Concubine and Shitou played the King of Chu.

Over the years we see the era of the Warlords (1920s), the Japanese invasion (mid 1940s), the retaking of China by the nationalists (late 1940s), and then the communist era of Mao Zedong. This epic story spans all the way to 1977, and not once does the excitement or attachment to the story falter.

Leslie Cheung truly embodied this character and brought it to life. It was all in his eyes, every emotion that you could imagine. The anger, frustration, terror, love, and heartbreak all came across plainly on his face. There hasn’t been a performance that moved me this much in a long time. From losing the man he loves to overcoming an opium addiction, every single movement, word, and expression was perfect.

Li Gong also gave a breathtaking performance as a former prostitute and the wife of Shitou. Honestly, there is nothing this woman can’t do. She’s able to display such strength, and such fragility, all wrapped up into one character. Together, Gong and Cheung have brilliant chemistry as two ‘women’ who want the same man.

There is plenty of brutality in this film, mixed with plenty of tenderness. It’s not completely tragic, for there is a lot of hope in these characters. You cannot describe this film with a genre or a word. It’s more than a period drama, or a romance, or a tragedy.

10331These characters are interesting enough from a psychological perspective alone. If there’s one thing I love about Farewell My Concubine, it’s that it begs you to discuss it afterwards. You're left to connect the dots when it comes to motives, feelings, and symbolism.

I was thrilled from start to finish with this masterful film. It truly is one of the greatest movies ever made. Schindler’s List may have won Best Picture at the Academy Awards during the same year, but for me this is a film worthy of that title. There’s nothing I could fault about Farewell My Concubine. I recommend this movie to anyone who is interested in history and psychology


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