Monday, February 12, 2007

Review of Farewell, My Concubine

I have a tendency to regard grand, sweeping, biographical epics with a fair deal of skepticism, since they often turn out to be filled with self-indulgent grandiosity and long-winded rise-and-fall clichés. However, Farewell, My Concubine (1993), which precisely fits the subgenre in outline, was quite a pleasant surprise. Weaving a genuinely complex love triangle (without doing the “love” or the “triangle” parts in a conventional sense) into the turbulent history of China was a brilliant and entertaining combination.

Outside of political history and personal relationships, the plot also balanced a third element; the Beijing opera/theater that stays noticeably constant even as everything else changes. This curious preoccupation with a cultural craft obsessively preserved by a determined few in the face of modernization reminded me of the treatment of P’ansori in Sopyonje. Also similarly, I found it occasionally repetitive and alienating as an outsider unable to understand the nuances of the language and performance, but I did really enjoy the elaborate costumes, makeup and acrobatics. On the flipside, the early offstage segments with the physical training and continuous beatings was all too familiar and initially had me thinking that the film was going to walk down the typical Hollywood path.

Of the two films, I think Farewell, My Concubine is the more intriguing, especially because of the ambiguous relationship between the two lead actors and of Dieyi with his role. That Dieyi should identify so strongly with his character, most conspicuously the gender of the character, manages to be bizarre and irrational while still be captured with perfect sensitivity and touching realism. I loved the way that the leads cycled between hurting/betraying and rescuing/reconciling although I thought the pattern might have been edited down by an iteration or two.

Overall, a highly entertaining, informative and ambitious film, if not particularly revolutionary in terms of style.

Walrus Rating: 8

3 comments:

Patrick said...

Your "love" "triangle" arouses my curiosity. Have you mentioned this movie before at some time? The name sounds familiar.

Mad Dog said...

Thought I'd take this opportunity to say I saw Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Cure recently. Tetsuo is an awesome for about the first half, then I have no idea what's going on and lose interest since it's basically the same thing over and over again by that point.

Cure has an interesting idea that is probably TOO subtle in the movie, and I wish the movie had finished explaining the plot instead of having a typical Asian ambiguous/mindfuck ending. But the sparse use of sound in the movie is cool, as were some of the images.

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