Farewell My Concubine (1993)Chen Kaige
The film incorporates Chinese Opera and so the costumes are generally very fancy and bright with the actors in heavy make-up. The backgrounds of the film are generally darker or duller so as to make the actors stand out more. This helps the film as it gives the opera scenes a more stage-like feel, more of the live performance feel than if it were to have brightbackgrounds as well and the actors would not stand out as much.
The colours used in the film are generally warmer tones to indicate happier times and colder tones to indicate the darker times in the two man’s lives. This helps the audience to see the differences between the emotions in the film. However, there are times in the film when warm colours are used in bad moments, this could be the director using irony.
FramingThe shots are mainly shot at eye level and one scene can include a wide shot to a medium shot to a medium close up shot to a close up shot. This helps as the audience is then able to see everything in that scene. As the costumes and the make up are very elaborate with intricate designs, the wide shots allow the audience to see everything, medium shot and close up shots allow the audience to see everything in greater detail as there is a lot of detail in this film.
The director incorporates symbolism into the shots as well. For example, in the scene where XiaoLou is telling the Communist Party the truth about Dieyi and his relationship with one of their patrons and Dieyi, in return tells on Xialou’s wife, Gong Li, proclaiming to the world that she was a prostitute. In this scene, many of the shots were shot with a burning fire in front of the actor’s faces. The fire in the shot symbolizes many things, from the burning up of the leads conscience to the destruction of their friendship.
One other example is that many important scenes take place in the Beijing opera training school and the opera school is isolated from the outside, keeping the children in with a big door. This is symbolic to the fact that the rules and values of the opera school is very different from the outside world.
Dieyi was obsessed with becoming Shitou’s “queen” and throughout the entire movie it is very apparent. Dieyi gave up his own body to get something that Shitou had expressed great desire in having which was a sword. In the film, the sword plays quite a pivotal role in the telling of the relationship between the two men. At the end of the film, when the opera troupe is being questioned, Dieyi throws the very sword into the fire, symbolizing him giving up and letting go of his desire to be with Shitou.
Another example is at the end of the movie where Dieyi kills himself. He kills himself in the same manner of that of the very same play that made him famous, Farwell My Concubine. It symbolizes the famous saying, “find what you love and let it kill you”. Opera was Dieyi’s passion and something he loved dearly and yet it was Opera and the very play that made his name that he died doing.
This film not only shows important events in China history but also important events in Peking opera history. It also gives us an inside look into what life must have been like for artists involved in opera.
The private lives of the two boys, their ever changing fortune was in tie with what was going on with China at that particular points in their lives. At one point, they were rich and suddenly they would become outcasts and then nearly destroyed by their political views at another point. Farewell My Concubine is fairly on par with the actual events in history and so, while watching this, though audience members may be familiar with the history of China, they will be able to ‘see’ it.
Robert Ebert, October 29, 1993, Farewell My Concubine, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/farewell-my-concubine-1993
Rachel Nurilee, April 6, 2013, Formal analysis on Farewell, My Concubine and Raise the Red Lantern.
Sarah-Cae is a media and communications student in Singapore Polytechnic. When she isn’t spending precious time on school assignments, she can be found writing or star-gazing. She also cannot be expected to resign to maturity.