FAREWELL, MY CONCUBINE
DIRECTOR: CHEN CAIGE
COUNTRY: CHINA 1993
CINEMATOGRAPHY: GU CHANGUWEI
CAST: Leslie Cheung (Mister Cheng), Gong Li (Juxian), Zhang Fengyi
SUPER FEATURES: The story is excellent.
China is finally starting to make some waves in film making. Unfortunately for the writers and directors, the work is heavily censored and limited. The results are from good to acceptable, but often somewhat unsatisfying. FAREWELL, MY CONCUBINE, is very satisfactory, despite what appears to be a bunch of moments, where the political events affect the story, when things have to be toned down, or hidden.
It is the story of a famous singer, whose life has been tortuous in the sense that he can not maintain a sense of control over his popularity, or the events surrounding it, be they personal, or simply artistic desires. And the film covers the span of over fifty years to tell the story. The two tremendous actors who were so famous at one time, are trying again to rekindle some old memories, this time for a production that does not mean much, as opposed to the early days, when the art form was respected and revered as important.
The early days of schooling were tough and the actors that were a part of those schools, for the most part were known to be sons of the lower classes, kids to whom, a chance to make a life was more important than anything else. The training is tough, and the way the kids are treated is tougher, specially when the teachers tend to think of the children as wimps and prostitutes. The fact that the schools are badly funded, tend to augment the position that living as an actor of an outdated style of performance is fading into the sunset, despite a few who care, and care so darn much that they will do anything to keep it going and maintain the status quo.
Mister Cheng, becomes famous for his role as the woman in a play, at a time when only boys sang the roles of women. And on the verge of the war with Japan, Mister Cheng has achieved a level of fame that allows him to demand certain privileges. But one of them is not love. His partner, who has been one of his lovers and the main reason why he has become famous, has fallen in love with a woman. And this affair is hurting the singing relationship.
The war brings about some major changes in China. The upper class that supported the famous operas has been substituted by a system that
has no regards for an artistic event, and even less respect for the needs of the individuals that perform them. It plays the duo's personal relationships as a political event, and destroys everything along the way, even isolating the old style of music as something that is against the new way. The events separate the singers, and pretty much kill the woman that the partner has loved for so long. All that is left in the old age, is the two old men, singing one more time for what appears to be a show that leans on a burlesque'ian appeal. A freak show. A generation is dead. A political way is gone. Is there anything left, even for someone, whose ability was so important to him, like Master Cheng.
The question arises if this film is about the characters and their story, or a political attack on the new order that does not care for arts at all, as a way to keep the masses in line. This is the political intrigue, and the film walks a fine line during these moments. But the result, is not the definition of the politics. It is the destruction of the individuals as traitors and people that are against the revolution.
Chen Kaige has put together a film that is an epic, and that is visually stunning. The only time that the film is shining and looks at things in a loving way, the camera poses for the actors, is when they perform. The rest of the time the camera is active, in search for a subject, if you will.
Colorful, well directed, with exceptional performances by Leslie Cheung and Gong Li, as his best friend's lover and eventual wife, this film plods along very well. It is a stunning piece of work. Well designed, with some exceptional costumes. A must see, even if the political situations are not favorable, and are the force behind the demise of an art form, the ultimate dishonor for a political movement, that feels that arts are a waste of valuable time for its people.
And this film is not a waste. We can only hope that the directors in this country can only continue to produce more material and that they eventually will usher a new age revolution, that includes film, stage and music, because no doubt a country as large as China has a lot of it.
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