Appropriately operatic, Chen's visually spectacular epic is sumptuous in every respect. Intelligent, enthralling, rhapsodic.
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A seductively lensed but emotionally uninvolving drama about two male Peking Opera stars and the ex-prostie who comes between them, Chen Kaige's fourth feature, Farewell to My Concubine, reps a stylistic U-turn compared with his earlier abstract parables like Life on a String and Yellow Earth.
Like Cheung's ethereally plaintive voice, the movie is a siren song that's appealing at first, but held too long. It becomes an increasing whine.
This film's extraordinary unity of style, theme, and plot is what sets it apart from the superficial historical epic. Behind all the color, movement, and elaborate decor of this "commercial" film lies an exceptionally taut structure.
It's a lovely film, but a little inert. It reaches its high point with glorious close-ups of the children. From there, it's all downhill.
No film can ever hope to convey the complex mosaic of cultural upheaval caused by everything that happened between 1924 and 1977, but Farewell My Concubine does an excellent job presenting samples of the flavor while telling a story that is both epic and intimate.
Thanks to Chen's eye and the strong central performances, Farewell My Concubine comes together with historical resonance and stirring, full-blooded sweep. [29 Oct 1993, p.51]
Director Chen and screenwriters Lilian Lee and Lu Wei (based on Lee's original novel) create a tapestry of detail woven with visual spectacle, historical saga and human drama. At over 2 1/2 hours running time, Farewell My Concubine is both too brief and too luxurious.
Farewell My Concubine is a demonstration of how a great epic can function. I was generally familiar with the important moments in modern Chinese history, but this film helped me to feel and imagine what it was like to live in the country during those times.
A vastly entertaining movie. It's also one of such recognizably serious concerns that you can sink into it with pleasure and count it a cultural achievement.