Farewell My Concubine (1993)

Farewell My Concubine (1993)

Queer film classic and landmark of Chinese cinema returns to screen 30 years later in 4K restoration

The Very Best

9.2

Movie

China, Hong Kong
Mandarin
Drama
1993
CHEN KAIGE
Dan Li, David Wu, Fei Zhenxiang
171 min

TLDR

They just don’t make films like this anymore.

What it's about

After being abandoned by his prostitute mother in 1924 Peking, Douzi meets Shitou through a theater troupe that raises them, resulting in a friendship that brings them fame and fortune, but also betrayal and tragedy.

The take

Thirty years after its release, the first ever Chinese language Palme d’Or winner has finally been made more accessible through Criterion Channel through its uncut 4K restoration. Farewell My Concubine is one of those classical epics that is considered essential viewing, but even with its near 3 hour runtime, the film still holds up all these decades later with its startlingly heartrending love story and depiction of the tumultuous shifts of 20th century China. Director Chen Kaige masterfully balances both sides, tapping into the pain Dieyi (Leslie Chung) chooses as he clings to the classical opera, the very art form that allows him a sliver of his unrequited love to be realized, but that is also limited depending on whichever government is in charge at the moment. It’s possibly one of the most beautiful and most miserable films ever made.

What stands out

Viewers have long raved about the historical epic’s lavish production design and comprehensive history, but Farewell My Concubine would not have the emotional resonance that it has without the performances of Leslie Cheung and Gong Li.

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