Chen Kaige

Chen Kaige
▪ 1994

      Chinese movie director Chen Kaige would not likely ever forget the evening of May 24, 1993. On that date judges at the Cannes International Film Festival announced that his fifth film, Farewell, My Concubine (Bawang bieji), had been chosen joint winner (with Jane Campion's The Piano) of the prestigious Palme d'Or (Golden Palm). The film also won the International Critics Award "for its brilliant combination of the spectacular and the intimate." No other Chinese director had ever been so honoured. The film follows the lives of two male members of the Peking Opera from their youth in the 1920s to the years after the traumatic Cultural Revolution (1966-76). The female lead was played by Gong Li and the male lead by Leslie Cheung, both established film stars in China. The film was also noteworthy for its honest depiction of homosexual love and the betrayal of loved ones and society.

      The enthusiastic response the film received abroad was not matched at home. In July the Chinese government banned an already-censored version after a two-week run in Shanghai and a single showing in Beijing (Peking). Authorities cited homosexual conduct as justification for the ban. Discouraged by this rebuke, Chen set aside plans for two works on the Cultural Revolution. A month later, however, the film reopened in China with additional editing that did not substantially alter the basic story line and preserved the final scene—a suicide.

      Chen, the son of teacher and filmmaker Chen Huai'ai, was born in Beijing on Aug. 12, 1952. In 1967 he was sent to the rural province of Yunnan to work on a rubber plantation. During his time among the impoverished people, Chen was indelibly impressed by the vast differences between the aspirations of the peasants and the harsh reality of their lives.

      After leaving Yunnan, Chen began a five-year stint in the army, which included a brief tour in Laos. When he returned to Beijing in 1975, he elected to pursue a career in film rather than a university degree with a major in poetry. In 1978 he entered the Beijing Film Academy, which had just reopened after the Cultural Revolution. Not long after his graduation, Chen became a leading member of what became known as the "fifth generation" of Chinese filmmakers.

      Chen's first film, Yellow Earth (Huang tudi), won critical acclaim after its release in 1984. It tells the story of a Communist soldier who visits a village to collect old songs. This film was followed the next year by The Big Parade (Dayuebing), which depicts young soldiers training for a military parade in Beijing. King of the Children (Haizi wang), the story of a young teacher sent to a squalid rural school "to learn from the peasants," appeared in 1987. Chen's fourth film, Life on a String (Bienzou bienchang), a 1991 release, chronicles the deeds of a blind storyteller and his blind apprentice as they roam the countryside. In all his films, Chen offered a realistic, sensitive, compassionate, and unflinching view of the lives and hopes of the Chinese people.


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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Chen Kaige — This is a Chinese name; the family name is Chen. Chen Kaige Chinese name 陳凱歌 (Traditional) Chinese name 陈凯歌 (Simplified) Pinyin Chén Kǎigē …   Wikipedia

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