Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ba wang bie ji (Farewell My Concubine) (1993)

Today's film is Farewell My Concubine.  It is sort of misleading because the poster features a woman, but the concubine character is really a man.  It is mostly about a friendship, but somehow fits an entire history of China in there as well.

So it starts off a long time ago in a Chinese opera school for boys.  I thought opera meant singing but this is some hard core acrobatics circus/kung fu training area and I'm not entirely sure how that helps them sing.  Two of the students grow up together and remain friends their entire lives.

The first one is Douzi, who is small and therefore thrust into more feminine roles.  His friend is Shitou, who gets to have all the masculine roles.  As they grow older, they get really good at the parts of the concubine and the king in the opera "Farewell My Concubine".

Now that they've become adults, they change their names into equally hard to spell Chinese names.  Like I just learned your names and now you're going to change them.  Douzi becomes Cheng Dieyi and Shitou becomes Duan Xiaolou.  Dieyi nows becomes a flawless expert with his makeup and fully embraces his feminine role.

Meanwhile, Xiaolou marries a former prostitute.  Since Dieyi has had a crush on him for years, he gets insanely jealous and threatens to quit performing with him.  Eventually they do make up though.
It's easy to feel bad for Dieyi because people have always tried to change him to fit their own agenda.  His own mom cut off his extra finger so he could go to secret opera ninja training camp.  Then, he is forced to play lady's roles from childhood on which messed his own sexual views about himself and everyone around him.  His friend knows that he has feelings for him, but he'd rather marry a hooker.  Even his creepy sugar daddy makes him drink turtle blood or some other magic shit to help his voice.  He doesn't have a choice in any of this stuff.

Meanwhile, the country of China changes as the Communists take over.  The opera people don't mind this as long as they get to keep performing.  It is interesting to see how much China changed throughout the beginning of the twentieth century, but the movie never presents it as a history lesson.  The final scene shows them as old men, still doing the same roles they've always done.  Dieyi uses this opportunity to kill himself during the performance.  And I'm like, why?  You're old.  Just die of old age.  It was a good movie, but it had a stupid ending so I will give it a 8/10.

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