Farewell My Concubine (film)

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Farewell My Concubine
File:Farewell My Concubine poster.jpg
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
Written 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)
Starring Leslie Cheung
Zhang Fengyi
Gong Li
Music by Zhao Jiping
Cinematography Gu Changwei
Edited by Pei Xiaonan
Beijing Film Studio
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release dates
  • January 1, 1993 (1993-01-01) (Hong Kong)
Running time
171 minutes
Country China
Language Mandarin
Box office $5,216,888[1]

Farewell My Concubine is a 1993 Chinese drama film directed by Chen Kaige and 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, 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.

The actor Leslie Cheung was used in the film to attract audiences because melodramas are not a popular genre. Also, due to Gong Li's international stardom, she was used as the other main character in the film.[3]

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


The author of the novel, Lilian Lee, collaborated with Chen Kaige on the production of the script for the film version.[5]


Farewell My Concubine spans 53 years, presenting the lives of two men against the historical backdrop of a country in upheaval. It is about 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 training school 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. The leader begins pushing around Master Guan. 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, craving freedom and candied crab apples, 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. In the meantime, Laizi hides to quickly stuff his mouth with the rest of the crab apples. 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 hung 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..." The monologue comes from the kunqu "The Record of the Bitter Sea," kuhai (the Bitter Sea) being a Buddhist term for the sorrow and misery of this world. 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,[6] causing his mouth to bleed. Douzi looks dazed, but soon enough, a soft whisper of, "I am by nature a girl... not a boy" spills forth. He finally says the line correctly, and everyone cheers with happiness and a sense of relief, managing to secure the agent for the troupe.[1].

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 traumatized. 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. (Although she is later accused of being a "prostitute" in the Blossom House, she was somewhat more elevated than Dieyi's mother in the first part of the film).[citation needed] 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. (The portrayal of these events led the film to be initially banned in China.) 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 in the same manner as in the play.


  • Leslie Cheung as Cheng Dieyi (程蝶衣) / Xiaodouzi (小豆子)
    • Yin Zhi as Cheng Dieyi (teenager)
    • Ma Mingwei as Cheng Dieyi (child)
  • Zhang Fengyi as Duan Xiaolou (段小樓) / Xiaoshitou (小石頭)
    • Zhao Hailong as Duan Xiaolou (teenager)
    • Fei Yang as Duan Xiaolou (child)
  • Gong Li as Juxian (菊仙 Júxiān)
  • Ge You as Yuan Shiqing (袁世卿 Yuán Shìqīng)
  • Lü Qi as Master Guan (Simplified: 关师傅, Traditional: 關師傅, Pinyin: Guān-shīfu)
  • Ying Da as Na Kun (那 坤 Nā Kūn)
  • Yidi as Eunuch Zhang (Simplified: 张公公, Traditional: 張公公, Pinyin: Zhāng-gōnggong)
  • Zhi Yitong as Saburo Aoki (青木 三郎, Chinese Pinyin: Qīngmù Sānláng, Japanese: Aoki Saburō)
  • Lei Han as Xiaosi
    • Li Chun as Xiaosi (teenager)
  • Li Dan as Laizi (Simplified: 小癞子, Traditional: 小癩子, Pinyin: Xiǎo Làizǐ)
    • Yang Yongchao as Laizi (child)
  • Wu Dai-wai as Red Guard (Simplified: 红卫兵, Traditional: 紅衛兵, Pinyin: Hóngwèibīng)

Use of Peking Opera

Running through the film is the Peking opera also known as Farewell My Concubine. The opera becomes Dieyi and Xiaolou's staple act and scenes from it are performed throughout the film.

The events in the film parallel the play. The opera focuses on the loyalty of the concubine Consort Yu (aka Yuji) to Xiang Yu, Hegemon-King of Western Chu, after Xiang's defeat by Liu Bang, founder of the Han Dynasty. The transition to Han Dynasty rule parallels the transition to the People's Republic of China. The concubine's fatal devotion to her doomed king is echoed by Dieyi's devotion to Xiaolou. At one point in the film, Xiaolou snaps to Dieyi, "I'm just an actor playing a king. You really are Yuji."


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).[7]

Miramax edited version

At the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the film was awarded the highest prize, the Palme d'Or.[8] Miramax Films mogul Harvey Weinstein purchased the distribution rights and removed ten minutes. 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.


  • Ranked No. 97 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[10]
  • Ranked No. 1 in Time Out's "100 Best Mainland Chinese Films" feature in 2014.[11]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=farewellmyconcubine.htm
  2. Paul Clark, Reinventing China, p. 159; Zha, China Pop pp. 96–100. -
  3. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  4. Blair, Gavin J. "'Farewell My Concubine' Director Chen Kaige to Head Tokyo Film Fest Jury". The Hollywood Reporter.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Braester, p. 335.
  6. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. http://www.aibai.com/infoview.php?id=12561
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Farewell My Concubine (1993) - Awards". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "The 66th Academy Awards (1994) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 25 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 97. Farewell My Concubine". Empire.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "100 best Chinese Mainland Films: the countdown". Time Out.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Braester, Yomi. Contributors: Rey Chow, Harry Harootunian, Masao Miyoshi. Painting the City Red: Chinese Cinema and the Urban Contract (Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society). Duke University Press, March 17, 2010. ISBN 0822392755, 9780822392750.
  • Clark, Paul. Reinventing China: A Generation and Its Films. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2005.
  • Zha, Jianying. China Pop : How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture. New York: New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton, 1995.
Further reading
  • Braester, Yomi. Farewell My Concubine: National Myth and City Memories. In Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes, edited by Chris Berry, 89–96. London: British Film Institute, 2003.
  • Kaplan, Ann. Reading Formations and Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine. In Sheldon Lu, ed., Transnational Chinese Cinema: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.
  • Larson, Wendy. The Concubine and the Figure of History: Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine. In Sheldon Lu, ed., Transnational Chinese Cinema: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997; also published as Bawang bieji: Ji yu lishi xingxiang, Qingxiang (1997); also in Harry Kuoshu, ed., Chinese Film, ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.
  • Lau, Jenny Kwok Wah. Farewell My Concubine': History, Melodrama, and Ideology in Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinema. Film Quarterly 49, 1 (Fall, 1995).
  • Lim, Song Hwee. The Uses of Femininity: Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine and Zhang Yuan's East Palace, West Palace. In Lim, Celluloid Comrades: Representations of Male Homosexuality in Contemporary Chinese Cinemas. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i, 2006, 69–98.
  • Lu, Sheldon Hsiao-peng. "National Cinema, Cultural Critique, Transnational Capital: The Films of Zhang Yimou." In Transnational Chinese Cinema, edited by Sheldon Lu, 105-39. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 199.
  • McDougall, Bonnie S. "Cross-dressing and the Disappearing Woman in Modern Chinese Fiction, Drama and Film: Reflections on Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine." China Information 8, 4 (Summer 1994): 42–51.
  • Metzger, Sean. "Farewell My Fantasy." The Journal of Homosexuality 39, 3/4 (2000): 213–32. Rpt. in Andrew Grossman, ed. Queer Asian Cinema: Shadows in the Shade. NY: Harrington Press, 2000, 213–232.
  • Xu, Ben. "Farewell My Concubine and Its Western and Chinese Viewers." Quarterly Review of Film and Television 16, 2 (1997).
  • Zhang, Benzi. "Figures of Violence and Tropes of Homophobia: Reading Farewell My Concubine between East and West." Journal of Popular Culture: Comparative Studies in the World's Civilizations 33, 2 (1999): 101–109.

External links