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Farewell, My Concubine

Chen Kaige's sweeping, intimate epic follows the rise to fame of Chinese Opera stars Douzi (Leslie Cheung) and Shitou (Fengyi Zhang), beginning with their brutal childhood in a cruel training regime for the demanding, acrobatic art. Shitou has a knack for self-abuse, while effeminate Douzi over-commits his identity to the female roles assigned boys of his slight build. To survive, the two form an all-encompassing co-dependency and eventually rise to super-stardom playing opposite each other as a besieged king and his steadfastly, fatally loyal concubine. This whirlwind of popularity insulates the beloved actors from the turbulent social changes around them, and they manage to stay mostly self-involved and aloof during the Japanese invasion of World War II. Although Douzi's romantic intentions toward Shitou are rejected in favor of a manipulative, opportunist prostitute (the incomparable Gong Li), the two performers are finally, cruelly forced out of their emotional cocoons when Mao's communist party takes control with its violent Cultural Revolution. Riding the crest of a surging wave of Chinese cinema during the early 1990s (all of which seemed to star the prolifically brilliant Li), Farewell My Concubine skillfully wraps political allegory in sumptuous visuals and precious personal drama. Although Kaige has a tendency to overstate his subtext, he also paints a vividly scathing indictment of a culture in which conformity is violently enforced and crowds are too eager to blindly follow the most recent, passionately delivered slogan. This 171-minute director's cut is gorgeously presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and 4.0 Cantonese Dolby Surround with English subtitles. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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