One of the landmark films of China’s Fifth Generation, Chen Kaige’s 1993 historical epic encompasses 50 turbulent years of Chinese history in a riveting backstage drama about lifelong friends who become stars of the Peking Opera.
Farewell My Concubine
One of the landmark films of China’s Fifth Generation, Chen Kaige’s 1993 historical epic encompasses 50 turbulent years of Chinese history in a riveting backstage drama about the stars of the Peking Opera.
Douzi (Leslie Cheung) and Shitou (Zhang Fengyi) were orphan boys when they were inducted into the Peking Opera’s intensely disciplined training program. The delicate Douzi is assigned the role of a female concubine in a famous traditional opera, while Shitou is cast as the king. Each will spend their lives locked in these roles, bringing them tremendous fame and securing careers that will endure the Second World War and the Communist takeover, before encountering friction during the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. Their friendship, too, is challenged by circumstance, with Douzi longing for Shitou, while Shitou eventually weds the beautiful sex worker Juxian (Gong Li). As the vagaries of history alter every aspect of their lives, the bonds between these three remain fierce, while the roles they embody keep alive something timeless.
Wei Lu’s adaptation of Lilian Lee’s novel is a paragon of narrative compression, sweeping across years while infusing moments with rich detail and arresting intimacy. Meanwhile, Chen’s sumptuous rendering would secure his stature as an internationally celebrated auteur. Farewell My Concubine earned two Oscar nominations and became the first Chinese-language film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes. In its home country, the film was released, then banned, then released and banned again. But whatever controversies Farewell My Concubine generated would eventually be overshadowed by its legacy as a masterpiece.
The restoration of Farewell My Concubine was completed in 2023 and was scanned on 4K DPX using the original 35mm negative and 1.85 ratio, taking great care to maintain the grain texture of the original print.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival