Farewell My Concubine (film)

Farewell My Concubine

Theatrical release poster
Traditional 霸王別姬
Simplified 霸王别姬
Mandarin Bàwáng Bié Jī
Literally The Hegemon-King Bids Farewell to His Concubine
Directed by Chen Kaige
Produced by Hsu Feng
Screenplay by Lilian Lee
Lu Wei
Based on Farewell My Concubine
by Lilian Lee rewritten from Qiuhaitang (秋海棠) by Qin Shouou (zh:秦瘦鷗)
Music by Zhao Jiping
Cinematography Gu Changwei
Edited by Pei Xiaonan
Beijing Film Studio
Distributed by Miramax Films (US)
Release dates
  • January 1, 1993 (1993-01-01) (Hong Kong)

  • October 15, 1993 (1993-10-15) (United States)
Running time
171 minutes
157 minutes (US - Theatrical release only)
Country China
Language Mandarin
Box office $5,216,888[1]

Farewell My Concubine is a 1993 Chinese drama film directed by Chen Kaige. It is one of the central works of the Fifth Generation movement that brought Chinese film directors to world attention.[2] Similar to other Fifth Generation films like To Live and The Blue Kite, Farewell My Concubine explores the effect of China's political turmoil during the mid-20th century on the lives of individuals, families, and groups. In this case, the affected are two stars in a Peking opera troupe and the woman who comes between them.

The film is an adaptation of the novel by Lilian Lee. Lilian Lee is also one of the film's screenplay writers.

Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung was used in the film to attract audiences because melodramas are not a popular genre. (Cheung's voice is dubbed by Beijing actor Yang Lixin.) Due to Gong Li's international stardom, she was cast as one of the main characters in the film.[3]

Farewell My Concubine remains to date the only Chinese-language film to win the Cannes Palme d'Or.[4]


Chen Kaige was first given a copy of Lilian Lee's novel in 1988, and although Chen found the story of the novel to be "compelling", he found the emotion subtext of the novel "a bit thin". After meeting with Lee, they recruited Chinese writer Lu Wei for the screenplay, and in 1991 the first draft of the screenplay came about.[5][6]


Farewell My Concubine spans 53 years, presenting the lives of two men against the historical backdrop of a country in upheaval. It is the story of Dieyi and Xiaolou and how their lives are affected by the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s and the victory of the Communists in 1949.

As the film opens, a crowd is watching a troupe of boys from a Beijing opera perform in the street, supervised by their aging director, Master Guan. One of the boys, Laizi, tries to run away, and the crowd is insulted. . One of the troupe, Shitou, distracts the crowd by breaking a brick on his head. The crowd cheers, but Shitou is later punished for pulling such a stunt.

An onlooking mother takes her son to the troupe house to be trained as an artist, but Master Guan refuses him because of a birth defect, a superfluous finger. The mother uses a cleaver to cut off the extra finger. She signs the contract with his thumb print in blood and leaves. Shitou welcomes him as "Douzi" [Bean]. The two boys soon become good friends.

A few years pass. Laizi and Douzi run away, but they return after seeing a performance by an opera master that makes Laizi weep and ask what does it take to become a star. Inspired, Laizi and Douzi return to the troupe, only to find Master Guan beating Shitou for allowing them to escape. Douzi walks to the beating bench to accept his punishment. Master Guan begins to beat him mercilessly, but Douzi never screams although Shitou begs him to say he is sorry. Shitou charges the master, but the assistant yells for the master to come: Laizi had just hanged himself.

Douzi attaches himself to Shitou and is trained to play dan (female) roles. Shitou learns the jing, a painted-face male lead. Douzi is to practice the monologue "Dreaming of the World Outside the Nunnery". When he is to say, "I am by nature a girl, not a boy," he instead says "I am by nature a boy..." . He continues to make this mistake, doing so in front of an agent who will possibly fund the troupe. As the agent is leaving, Shitou viciously jams Master Guan's brass tobacco pipe in Douzi's mouth as punishment,[7] causing his mouth to bleed. Douzi looks dazed, but soon enough, he whispers, "I am by nature a girl... not a boy." The group cheers, having secured the agent for the troupe.[8]

A while later, Douzi and Shitou perform for the Eunuch Zhang, who, appreciating their performance summons the boys for an audience. Shitou admires a beautiful sword in Zhang's collection, stating that if he were emperor, Douzi would be his queen. Douzi says that one day he hopes to give Shitou a sword like that. The boys are told Douzi is to meet Zhang alone.

Douzi walks in on the eunuch Zhang, catching him in a lascivious embrace with a young girl. Douzi is afraid as the man eyes him up and down. He wishes to find Shitou because, he says, "I have to pee." The old man brings a jar, and tells him to urinate, staring in lust at the boy's body. The old eunuch then grabs for him. Douzi tries to flee, but Zhang catches him and pushes him to the ground. Hours later he emerges, and Shitou cannot get him to say a word. It is clear that Douzi has been sexually assaulted. On their way home, Douzi spies a baby abandoned in the street. Master Guan urges Douzi to leave the baby, saying "we each have our own fate, or yuanfen," but Douzi takes him in and eventually Master Guan trains him.

Memorabilia from the film exhibited at "The Art of Leslie Cheung's Movie Images", April 2013, Hong Kong Central Library.

Douzi and Shitou become Peking opera stars and take on the stage names Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou. The adult Dieyi is in love with Xiaolou, but the sexual aspects of his affection are not returned. When they become a hit in Beijing, a patron, Yuan Shiqing, slowly courts Dieyi. Xiaolou, in the meantime, takes a liking to Juxian, a headstrong courtesan at the upscale House of Blossoms. Xiaolou intervenes when a mob of drunk men harass Juxian and conjures up a ruse to get the men to leave her alone, saying that they are announcing their engagement. Juxian later buys her freedom and, deceiving him into thinking she was thrown out, pressures Xiaolou to keep his word. When Xiaolou announces his engagement to Juxian, Dieyi and Xiaolou have a falling out. Dieyi calls her "Pan Jinlian", a "dragon lady" from the novel Golden Lotus. Dieyi takes up with Master Yuan, who gives him Zhang's sword. Master Guan shames them into re-forming the troupe.

The complex relationship between these three characters is then tested in the succession of political upheavals that encompass China from the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The film also follows the fates of Na Kun, who turns his theater troupe over to the new government after 1949, and the abandoned baby, who is trained in female roles. He is called "Xiao Si", or "Little Fourth Brother." They go through Japanese Occupation, Kuomintang administration's of the mainland, the Communist revolution in 1949, the People's Liberation Army's entrance of the city, and the Cultural Revolution's attack of the "feudal" traditional opera. Xiao Si and Douzi have an argument about Xiao Si training and punishment at the end of which Xiao Si threatens revenge. Xiao Si usurps Dieyi's role as the Concubine, a betrayal not only by Xiao Si but also by Xiaolou who has acceded to the change without informing Dieyi. Dieyi leaves, separating himself. He becomes addicted to opium. Later, Xiaolou and Juxian help him to recover and the troupe surrounds him to congratulate him on returning to health.

On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, Shitou and Juxian are seen burning now contraband literature and clothing. After a few drinks, they rekindle their relationship. The next scene shifts to Shitou being questioned by the Red Guards on a few unpatriotic words he said years ago and overheard by their manager. Xiao Si is seen in the background seemingly in a position of power. The entire opera troupe is taken out in public for a humiliating struggle session by the Red Guards. Under duress, Shitou confesses that Douzi performed for the Japanese and may have had a relationship with Yuan Shiqing. Douzi, enraged, tells the mob that Juxian was a prostitute. Shitou is forced to admit that he married a prostitute but swears that he doesn't love her and will never see her again. Juxian is crushed to hear his words and, when Shitou returns home, he finds she has committed suicide. Xiao Si is seen in a gym practicing Concubine Yu's role, happy over having usurped Douzi's position. The group of Red Guards walk into the gym and catch him in the act. His fate is unclear.

The film then jumps back to the first scene of their reunion in 1977. Douzi and Shitou are practicing Farewell My Concubine. Their relationship seems to have mended since the tribunal and suicide of Shitou's wife. They exchange a smile and Shitou begins with the line that gave Douzi trouble forty years ago. Douzi makes the same error of finishing the line with "I am not a girl". Shitou corrects him and they continue practicing. Douzi then commits suicide by sword.



Box office and reception

The film was released to three theaters on October 15, 1993, and grossed $69,408 in the opening weekend. Its final grossing in the US market is $5,216,888.[1]

In 2005, some 25,000 Hong Kong cineastes voted it their favorite Chinese-language film of the century (#2 was Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild).[9]

Miramax Edited Version

At the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the film was awarded the highest prize, the Palme d'Or.[10] Miramax Films mogul Harvey Weinstein purchased the distribution rights and removed fourteen minutes resulting a 157 minute cut. This is the version seen in U.S. theaters (and also in the U.K.) According to Peter Biskind's book, "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film", Louis Malle, who was president of the Cannes jury that year, said: "The film we admired so much in Cannes is not the film seen in this country (referring to the U.S.), which is twenty minutes shorter – but seems longer because it doesn't make any sense. It was better before those guys made cuts."

The uncut film has been released by Miramax on DVD, and is the original 171-minute version.


See also


  1. 1 2 "Farewell My Concubine (1993)". Box Office Mojo. 1993-11-02. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
  2. Paul Clark, Reinventing China, p. 159; Zha, China Pop pp. 96–100. -
  3. Lau, Jenny Kwok Wah (1995). ""Farewell My Concubine": History, Melodrama, and ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema". University of California Press. 49 (1): 16–27. JSTOR 1213489.
  4. Blair, Gavin J. "'Farewell My Concubine' Director Chen Kaige to Head Tokyo Film Fest Jury". The Hollywood Reporter.
  5. 1 2 "100 best Chinese Mainland Films: the countdown". Time Out.
  6. Braester, Yomi (2010). Painting the City Red: Chinese Cinema and the Urban Contract. Durham [NC]: Duke University Press. p. 335. ISBN 9780822392750. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  7. Canby, Vincent (October 8, 1993). "Farewell My Concubine (2003) Review/Film Festival; Action, History, Politics And Love Above All". New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
  8. Nepstad, Peter (2004-03-30). "Asian Cinema Reviews: Farewell My Concubine". The Illuminated Lantern. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
  9. "爱白网". Aibai.com. 2005-05-28. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
  10. 1 2 3 "Farewell My Concubine (1993) - Awards". The New York Times.
  11. "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  12. "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 97. Farewell My Concubine". Empire.
  13. "Full List | Best Movies of All Time". Time. 12 February 2005. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  14. "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2016.

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