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Film Review: "Farewell to My Concubine" (4K restored version, 1993)

Updated: Nov 27, 2023


Film Review: "Farewell to My Concubine" (4K restored version, 1993)
FILE PHOTO: Film Review: "Farewell to My Concubine" (4K restored version, 1993) © Ryota Nakanishi

The 4K restoration of the Hong Kong film, Farewell to My Concubine (1993) is not a disappointment while it is still the greatest Chinese film work in the Greater China in history. It is neither just about actions – King Hu – nor atmosphere – Hou Xiaoxian – but about a dramaturgy. Even the cutting edge technology of 2023 can’t create this level and quality of a film at present. Literally, none of Chinese and Asian filmmakers exceeded Dir. Chen Kaige’s monumental work even though there are some conglomerates and award-buying professional agencies are rampant today to turn a garbage into a gold medallion vacuuming machine in the brink of an eye. Of course, Akira Kurosawa or Chen Kaige can’t be created in this way.


In general, the narrow focus and low key lighting style don’t fit 4K or higher resolutions to create live-witnessing impressions of the 4K function for audiences of today. Unfortunately, Farewell to My Concubine (1993) falls in this category originally in terms of digital screening. Yet, their initial cinematography by Gu Changwei is atmospheric and better than any KMT’s Taiwan New Wave policy films as the 4K restoration fully exposed. Among all shots of the restored version, the best solution is the close up of Cheng Dieyi (Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing) confessing the supposed sin of his life term Chinese Opera partner, Duan Xiaolou in front of the Red Guard in the struggle session. Especially, that beautiful close up has the so called live-witnessing impression typical in successful restoration.


Ideologically, KMT’s Hsu Feng as a producer made this Hong Kong film anti-Mao, anti-Communist one while their God, Chiang Kai-shek suddenly appears as a Commander – Deus ex machina – to save Cheng Dieyi’s life from the show trial. Dir. Chen Kaige’s one of successful narrative management is that audiences know Cheng Dieyi is not a traitor, and the Japanese occupiers, personified as Saburo Aoki, just treated him a VIP as a notable Chinese Opera actor during the occupation. This is unusual in anti-Japanese propaganda films produced in the Greater China besides Hou’s The Puppet Master (1993) which was also released in the same year.


Furthermore, the point of view of both Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou perfectly embody and crystalized the still dominant political and aesthetical values and world view of the ruling class of Taiwan and Hong Kong as an elitism that highly disdains the working class and their socialistic approach to the art ‘industry’ in general. If people are conscious of this elitist bias and hostility toward the workers by the ruling elitists (exclusivists), this film appears as a historical and political reflection yet if people are blind of this bias, it appears as a perfect and the most powerful anti-Communist film. This bias is obvious while it approached the history only in the limited field of the Chinese opera performers, both Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou. And the drama is mainly about the class relations not about the political correctness of the LGBTQ of today. Hence, protagonists’ lives are interconnected with the fortunes of their patrons - Yuan Shiqing and Na Kun - in the different historical periods of China.


However, it still doesn’t totally deny the Maoist era because after the suicide of Juxian, a wife of Duan Xiaolou, finally both Cheng Dieyi and Duan play the once oppressed Chinese opera program, Farewell My Concubine in 1977. As we know, 1977 still was the Maoist era. Another surprising fact is that CCP approved this film limitedly after alterations.


In conclusion, Farewell to My Concubine (1993) is the greatest Chinese film masterpiece until today and for the future. If people want to understand the still-dominant elitism of the Chinese art industries and the leading political forces, this one is chrystal clear of it.



 

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This film article is for the educational purpose only.


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