Farewell My Concubine

Farewell My Concubine, directed by Chen Kaige, China, 1994
Cheng Dieyi: mother a prostitute who gives him up as a child to a Peking Opera troupe that trains brutally to play the role of the legendary concubine to the King of Chu (项羽,Xiang Yu, 232-202 B.C.); nickname “douzi” meaning a pea; initially unable to separate his stage persona and his identity in real life; loyal to “her” apprentice friend who acts as the legendary king; performs for the Japanese soldiers in order to have his friend released; but becomes deflated during the Cultural Revolution in which he sees his “king” act cowardly to save his own neck; becomes an opium addict; comits suicide during rehearsal in the same manner the concubine did not to abandon the king
Duan Xiaolou, nick-name “Shitou,” meaning stone; grows up in the same Opera troupe as Dieyi; becomes a celebrity for playing the role of the ancient King of Chu; his relationship with Dieyi off stage is anything but loyal or steadfast; has no illusion of himself as a king; often refers to himself as a “fake king;” marries a prostitute from the brothel he frequented, whom he later denounces during the Cultural Revolution; often reminds his friend of his unrealistic and dangerous obsession with their stage roles
Yuan ShiqingA rich patron of Peking Opera, knowledgeable, authoritative and thoroughly familiar with all the well-known dramas ever performed in Peking Opera; a great admirer of Cheng Dieyi’s talent as an opera singer, an actor, and male friend; gives him a real sward as a souvenir and a token of appreciation; executed in 1949 by the communists for his association with the nationalists and therefore a counter-revolutionary
Ju Xian, a prostitute in “Blossom House”; marries Xiaolou as a way out of the brothel; rivals with Dieyi in dedication to and love for Xiaolou; loses her pregnancy in the struggle to keep her husband from being taken away by the nationalist soldiers; surprised to see her husband denouncing her to save himself during the Cultural Revolution; feels hurt and betrayed, comits suicide
Master, head of the old Opera Company; disciplines his apprentices with cruelty that is as real as his passion for Peking Opera; takes pride in the success and stardom of his apprentices; dies training these orphans and educating them with the morals of the dramas they are training to perform
Na Kun, Manager of Cheng-Duan opera troupe; does everything to keep everybody together for profit; tells on Xiaolou in the Cultural Revolution to save himself; his devotion to Peking Opera stems from financial reasons
Xiao Si (Little Fourth)an orphan Dieyi hand picked as his personal trainee; turns against Dieyi during the Cultural Revolution, when he is active as a Red Guard and plays the role of the concubine, to discredit and replace his mentor who initiated him into the world of Peking Opera
Master Zhang, a former eunuch of the imperial court and senile opera lover, who sponsors Duan and Cheng’s first debut when they become stars instantly; also a pedophile who rapes Dieyi; sells cigarettes incognito after 1949 when the communists firmly established their order and authority in China


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