Farewell My Concubine movie review (2023)

Of course, there are unforgettable scenes before the ending of Chen’s epic too. In fact, they’re throughout the piece, enabled by Gu Changwei’s fluid, lyrical camerawork that always perfectly frames its characters without calling attention to the piece’s epic nature. “Farewell My Concubine” is somehow both breathtakingly gorgeous but also tactile and relatable at the same time. It doesn’t fall victim to the traditional trappings of films that unfold over a half-century, movies that often place too much weight on the production and costume design, making them feel hermetic and distant. “Farewell My Concubine” takes place in a world unlike most of those occupied by its viewers, but the emotions and empathetic storytelling make it current and resonant. Like a great opera, Chen’s film will transcend centuries and maintain its power. 

It helps to have committed performers like this trio here, especially the future star Gong Li and the unforgettable Leslie Cheung. I forgot how expressive and powerful he could be, and I hope the restoration of this film leads people back to his work in films like “A Better Tomorrow,” “Days of Being Wild,” and “Happy Together.” Chen’s film gains added emotional weight 30 years later when one considers how much was lost by Leung’s passing in 2003. Gong and Zhang are excellent too, but how openly Cheung wears his emotions on his face holds this film together.

As for the restoration, it looks better than ever, and the recut version shows no signs of editing issues. In fact, I had to go to a list to see where beats were reinserted, only catching one or two that felt different than I remembered as I was watching, but I hadn’t seen the Weinstein version in three decades. Those more familiar with the 1993 version will likely spot them immediately. To this viewer, they all feel like material that never should have been excised in the first place, as they enhance the story rather than distract from it. It took 30 years, but if this version brings “Farewell My Concubine” to a new audience, it will have been worth the wait.

Opens in New York and Los Angeles on September 22nd, with additional markets to follow.