A Synopsis of the Movie Farewell My Concubine

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Shuo Zhang
Writing 1
05/6/2011
A new look on homosexuality-analysis of Farewell My Concubine Although homosexuality exists in social reality, the lack of its own “truthful” representation in terms of books or films creates numerous misunderstandings that prevent the development of a positive homosexual sensibility in Chinese culture. Therefore, the most impressive and controversial part of the movie Farewell My Concubine (Kaige Chen, 1993) is its effort to break the language-less silence in search of an appropriate voice to express homosexual experience and anxiety. By showing Dieyi Cheng's painful life against the historical backdrop of extreme turbulence in China (from 1924 to 1977), the movie critiques the homophobic phenomenon in traditional Chinese culture, and summons the establishment and development of a more liberal society. Dieyi’s tragic life begins with his designation to play Dan’sroles because of his delicate appearance. At first, this idea strongly bothers him. When the famous theatrical agent, Nakun, visited the troupe, Dieyi was brought to recite his bravura role; but instead of saying the correct line “I am naturally a girl, not a boy”, he insisted in saying ‘I am by nature a boy..’(17:57). With the future of the troupe at risk, such a mistake was not tolerable in the highly-standard traditional Peking Opera, Xiaolou twisted a tobacco pipe in Dieyi’s mouth until Dieyi whimpered the correct lines with his mouth full of blood. Dieyi tried to escape from the opera house with another apprentice Laizi, but came back after seeing a performance by an opera master that impressed and made both of them long for the life of opera stars. After their return, Xiaolou was brutally beaten for allowing their escape, and seeing this scene, Laizi hanged himself so as to be free from the pain of punishment. This heartbreaking experience forced Dieyi to accept his female role, and made him submissive to the headmaster. To become a professional Dan, Dieyi must have gone through highly intensive training process. Although the movie leaves out this part, we can imagine that he was taught to speak and act like women even in his daily life. According to Min Tian’s essay “Male Dan: the Paradox of Sex, Acting, and Perception of Female Impersonation in Traditional Chinese Theatre”, “identification, given the strict stylization and codification in traditional Beijing Opera, is one of the cornerstones of performance and it is stressed even more in the art of female impersonation precisely because of the ‘prescribed necessity of dissolving the disparity between the actor and his female role’”. (Tian, 84) Hence, it is necessary for Dieyi to constantly imagine himself as a woman so as to reach the standard of performance and be accepted by the censorious audience. Dieyi succeeded in playing the role Concubine Yu in his debut performance. He was so effeminate and attractive on stage that Eunuch Zhang became crazy for him and secretly raped him afterwards. In return for Dieyi’s sacrifice, Eunuch Zhang made the opera house the most popular one in Beijing, and Dieyi, the most promising “actress” among his peers. However, Dieyi was crushed after this grueling experience, as shown in the movie: he remained silent for days, tucked away from his fellow apprentices, and even indulged himself more into his fantasy, into his role of Concubine Yu: In the middle of a performance, the Japanese troop broke into the theatre and started to rob the audience. The stir became a huge riot when a woman was shot to death so that the actors and workers stopped performing and fought back against the soldiers. Only Dieyi remained on stage, continued singing and dancing, as if the shot, the fight, the impending anti-Japanese war were none of his business. This shows Dieyi's complete dedication and focus on stage and within his constructed fantasy as Concubine Yu. Also, it is from this incident that Dieyi’s sexual orientation became...
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