A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Farewell My Concubine" is two films at once: An epic spanning a halfcentury of modern Chinese history, and a melodrama about life backstage at the famed Peking Opera. The idea of viewing modern China through the eyes of two of the opera's stars would not, at first, seem logical: How could the birth pangs of a developing nation have much in common with the death pangs of an ancient and ritualistic art form? And yet the film flows with such urgency that all its connections seem logical. And it is filmed with such visual splendor that possible objections are swept aside.
The film opens on a setting worthy of Dickens, as two young orphan boys are inducted into the Peking Opera's harsh, perfectionist training academy. The physical and mental hardships are barely endurable, but they produce, after years, classical performers who are exquisitely trained for their roles.
We meet the delicate young Douzi (Leslie Cheung), who is assigned to the transvestite role of the concubine in a famous traditional opera, and the more masculine Shitou (Zhang Fengyi), who will play the king. Throughout their lives they will be locked into these roles onstage, while their personal relationship somehow survives the upheavals of World War II, the communist takeover of China and the Cultural Revolution.
Under the stage names of Cheng Dieyi (Leslie Cheung) and Duan Xiaolou (Zhang Fengyi), the two actors become wildly popular with Peking audiences. But they are politically unsophisticated, and Dieyi in particular makes unwise decisions during the Japanese occupation, leading to later charges of collaborating with the enemy.