Written by: Michael Den Boer on March 22nd, 2016
BluRay released: March 21st, 2016
Approximate running time: 171 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 12 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Stereo Mandarin
BluRay Release: BFI
Region Coding: Region B / Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £19.99 (UK)
Farewell My Concubine was directed by Kaige Chen whose other notable films include, Temptress Moon, The Emperor and the Assassin and Together with You. Key collaborators on Farewell My Concubine include, cinematographer Changwei Gu (Red Sorghum, In the Heat of the Sun) and composer Jiping Zhao (Raise the Red Lantern, To Live). The screenplay for Farewell My Concubine was adapted and co-written by Lillian Lee, from her source novel of the same name.
The narrative scope of this film spans fifty years and though this is a character driven film. This film also finds a very satisfying balanced between its character driven moments and moments related to Chinese history. And when it comes to the characters which populate this film, another area where this film excels is how it deals with controversial subject matter, most notable homosexuality. And nowhere is this more evident than in the relationship between this film two main characters Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou. With the latter portraying the concubine, while the latter plays the king in the Peking Opera. Also the complexity of their relationship becomes further strained as Duan Xiaolou becomes more involved with Juxian.
From a production stand point there are no areas where the film does not excel and then some. At just under three hours in length the film is wonderfully paced. With each moment being given just the right amount of time to fully resonate. And when it comes to the visuals this is yet another area where this film far exceeds expectations. With every inch of the frame being used for maximum effect. Another area where the visuals standout out is how they heighten the mood of what is occurring onscreen. A few key examples where the film excels in this regard include, a scene where Cheng Dieyi has been struggling to learn the role of concubine and feed up with his mistakes Duan Xiaolou violently forces a wooden pipe into Cheng Dieyi’s mouth. Another moment of note is the scene where Communists who have now gained control of China and they round up everyone at the Peking Opera. Over the course of an intensive interrogation they Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou, to denounce each other.
Though the performances from the entire cast are exceptional. There are three performances that are head and shoulders above the rest of the performances. The first of these performances is Leslie Cheung (A Better Tomorrow, The Bride with White Hair) in the role of Cheng Dieyi. This character’s journey began as a young boy when his mother who could no longer take care of him, so she gives him to an academy that taught Peking Opera. The second of these performances is Fengyi Zhang (Red Cliff) in the role of Duan Xiaolou. This character is already at the aforementioned academy and it is there that he quickly forges a bound with Cheng Dieyi. And the third of these performances is Li Gong (2046, Memoirs of a Geisha) in the role of Juxian, a former prostitute who falls in love with and marries Duan Xiaolou.
Farewell My Concubine comes on a 50 GB dual layer (42.9 GB) BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. The source used for this transfer is in excellent shape. Colors look nicely saturated, flesh tones look accurate, details generally look crisp and contrast and black levels remain strong throughout. Also grain looks natural and there are no issues with DNR or compression. When compared to previous home video releases this new transfer will come as a revelation.
This release comes with one audio mix, a LPCM stereo mix in Mandarin and removable English subtitles have also been included for this this release. There are no issues with background noise or distortion and dialog comes through clearly. Also everything sounds balanced and when it comes to the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack they are well represented, especially the film’s score which always sounds robust.
Topics discussed in this extra include:
Leslie Cheung: The character he portrays, working with Kaige Chen and how he prepared all those involved for each scene before shooting the scenes, how he prepared for his role and what scene was the hardest for him to shoot.
Li Gong: The character she portrays, how she prepared for her role and the scene that was most difficult her for to shoot.
Kaige Chen: Themes explored in the film and the importance of the Cheng Dieyi to the story at hand, when it came to the beatings in the film he went to great lengths to make them look authentic and how he became involved in making the film.
Also included with this release is a DVD that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release. Overall Farewell My Concubine gets an excellent release from BFI.