Farewell My Concubine

Like Gone With the Wind, Chen Kaige’s blockbuster–half a century of contemporary Chinese history (1925-1977) seen through the lives of two Peking Opera actors and a former prostitute–is worth seeing largely for its pizzazz: riveting performances, epic sweep and story telling, a bold and melodramatic use of color, and a capacity to generalize suggestively about large historical events through a few interlocking individual stories. Needless to say, there are certain limitations as well as advantages to this approach. The rather gingerly treatment of the homosexuality of one of the lead characters, while somewhat taboo breaking for a big-budget Chinese production, founders on a determination to make most of his sex life inscrutable, and the emphasis on violence in the early opera-training sequences sometimes has the effect of inflated rhetoric. Nevertheless, this is entertaining filmmaking on a grand scale. As a footnote, it’s worth mentioning that Miramax, which has been vocal about the injustice of the censor’s cuts made in China, has induced the director to cut 14 minutes out of the U.S. prints, making the film even shorter here than it is there. With Leslie Cheung, Zhang Fengyi, and Gong Li, adapted by Lilian Lee and Lu Wei from the former’s best-selling novel. Fine Arts.

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