141 of 148 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful, violent, and disturbing Chinese history lesson,
This review is from: Farewell My Concubine (DVD)
This award-winning 1993 Chinese film is an epic in every sense of the word. It is not only the story of some very interesting characters, it is also the story of the Peking Opera as well as modern Chinese history from 1924 to 1977. It is beautiful and sad and violent and romantic. And, along the way, I learned a lot about Chinese opera.
The performers are all male, and training for the young boys is harsh. Apprentices start in early childhood. They are beaten often for such infractions as forgetting their lines. They are forced to kneel for hours holding up buckets water. They are stretched into split positions in torturous agony. And yet, as we follow the story of two of these young boys, we come to understand that this horrible treatment resulted in classically trained performers, some of whom rose to great fame.
This is the story of two young orphan friends, Dousi and Shitou, played by three sets of actors depicting their childhood, then adolescence, then adulthood (and cast so well that it really seemed like the same actors growing up). Dousi is more delicate and excels in the role of the concubine. Shitou is more robust and always plays the king in "Farewell My Concubine" which is a classic Chinese opera. It's easy to see that Dousi is in love with Shitou but Shitou favors women and marries a the lovely Juxian, who he meets in a brothel. Immediately, there's a love triangle.
All this is set against the backdrop of first the Japanese invasion, then the Nationalist Army and then the Communists. The characters suffer through all this and adapt and struggle. There are horrible moments, especially when they renounce each other during the cultural revolution. My emotions were touched by their plight because I really felt I knew each of these people. I didn't even mind the almost-three-hour-long film because it seemed I was actually living their lives right with them. And there was no way it could have been told in a shorter time.
I loved this film. It's disturbing, of course. But yet, I came away with an understanding of China that I could never get from merely reading history books. Highly recommended.