Chen Kaige is one of China’s most prominent and influential directors, and perhaps the central figure in China’s Fifth Generation of filmmakers. Born Chen Aige in Beijing, he was the son of noted director Chen Huaiai, who directed a number of popular films during the 1950s and 1960s. As the chaos of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution was gathering steam, Chen, a 15-year-old member of the notorious Red Guard, publicly denounced his father. He later partially reenacted that day during the heartbreaking climax of Farewell, My Concubine (1989). During the late ‘60s, he was sent to labor in a rubber plantation in southwestern Yunnan province. Later, he served in the army but remained in the area. In 1975, as Mao’s reign was drawing to a close, Chen returned to his hometown to work at the Beijing Film Processing Laboratory. Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaopeng, set about undoing much of the destruction of Mao’s bloody final decade, which included opening the nation’s schools and academies. In 1978… read more
I've recently become a huge fan of Chen Kaige's filmmaking style. When I first saw FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE, I was enamored by its many layers, intertwining story lines (how the opera correlated to the Communist takeover of China, and the characterization. TEMPTRESS MOON yet again produced the same effect, howsoever more subdued. Even LIFE ON A STRING, another fine example of a touching tale that mixes the fantastic (based on the idea that when a blind musician breaks his thousandth string, his sight will be restored) with the real (acceptance one's own flaws and those of his or her society). I just watched THE PROMISE, and my initial thought was "What the hell is this?" Needless to say, I was very disappointed by the heavy CGI undertones (not so much that they're overused, but they're poorly designed, which took me further away from the story line than the story line itself.) The film does have some cool visual concepts, mainly that of slavery (the female lead, being kept in a giant yellow birdcage, for example) and the concept of Snow Wolf, a character who wears the cloak of death and wields a scythe-shaped sword, but who is afraid of death. This concept I would've liked more elaboration on, since it was the most original take on death I've seen in a long while. I'm looking forward to watching some other Chen Kaige films, but unlike Zhang Yimou, who has adapted his storytelling wizardry to the CGI world beautifully, Kaige doesn't quite cut it.