4.5 Definitely a movie made for the big screen. The small screen reduces the movie to more basic plot, without the sensual experience of the lush, sumptuous details. It's hard to watch this film knowing that Leslie Cheung, the actor who played Dieyi, committed suicide in 2003. Life imitating art? Art imitating life? Perhaps a bit of both.
Chen Kaige's devastating saga of a pair of opera performers in a rapidly changing nation is both a history lesson and personal melodrama simultaneously. Leslie Cheung's performance and character in particular defy the nation of the films origin by honestly projecting a man trained to be a woman and his unfulfilled desires. Gong Li's supporting performance is also of special heartbreaking note.
A shattering work of historical melodrama -- like the opera threaded through its narrative from which the film takes its name -- Farewell My Concubine's formidable tragic resonance gains additional levels of pathos from the viewer's knowledge of Chen's own deeply compromised participation in the Cultural Revolution. Leslie Cheung's suicide years later casts yet another shadow over an already haunting, wrenching tale.