I have been waiting to see this film ever since it was honoured with Golden Palms at Cannes in 1993. I heard, this was the first movie from China to win at Cannes ( by the way, have we won any ? ).I managed to get the book written by Lilian Lee ( on the same name) in 1995 and was truly impressed with that ( I referred the notes I have written 12 yrs back ,today before posting this) book.
A movie set in the begininning of 20th century, through the turmoil of Chinese history, is about two stage-brothers of the famous Beijing Opera and a woman comes between them. It gives you the glimpses of their early ages of training under the master, with its tough and torturouse way of inculcating the skills. The duo become the most sought after pairs in the Opera scenes, and the opera "Farewell my Concubine" become a master piece. Deiyi, who acts as the concubine in the opera and Xialou the fallen king. As the China goes through the political turmoil with the attack by Japan, the triumph of the Nationalist Party and later the Communist Army taking control of the city. The patronising of the Opera House thus goes through different regime. The actors and the team are often subjected to questioning for their alleged performance for the enemy. Xialou, who falls in love with a prostitute, later marries her, causing the drift among the friends. Situation turns worse after the new Commuist Soldiers arrest them for their involment in pre-revelution rulers and the chain of blame and betrayal set them apart.Every aspect of Film making is superb. From story and screenplay ( by the author himself) , the performance, the direction , the visuals..
I found this little piece in the book, not sure if I noticed this in the film.
"Our Soldiers and Comrades", she replied sarcastically. "I thought they also served the people. They can't be the people".
"Well, who are the people ?"
"We singers aren't the people. Women aren't the people. Workers and soldiers aren't the people. Nobody is the peolpe, but everybody seems to be serving the people. Who are the people ? Who's left ?"
"Chairman Mao ?"