Chen Kaige Biography

Chen Kaige photo

Born: August 12, 1952


Date of Birth: August 12, 1952

Born in Beijing, China, Chen Kaige was only 14 when China’s Cultural Revolution began. His family was comprised of music lovers -– his sister played the piano, Chen played violin, and his father had an extensive record collection that the whole family enjoyed. But in 1966, the Red Guard smashed the collection in front of the entire family. Later, in school, Chen had to denounce his father, then found himself living on the streets, and he and his friends had to find dark rooms where they could hide and listen to classical music.

He later joined the Red Guard and was sent to another province to work in the forests for eight years. During that time his father, once an established filmmaker, was forced to clean bathrooms. Chen says people were jealous of his father’s success, and even though he was innocent of any wrongdoing, people wanted to destroy him. Although for years Chen agonized over having denounced his father, they were able to repair their relationship once the Cultural Revolution ended. He says, “I remember the shock of seeing him for the first time in many years -- he looked so much older, and all his teeth were gone.” In 1975, Chen worked in a film processing plant, then in 1978, when the schools re-opened, he entered the Beijing Film Academy. He made his directorial debut for television in 1984 with Qiang xing qi fei, followed by the feature Huang tu di (1984), for which he wrote the screenplay. The film won several awards when it was shown at international film festivals, and Chen’s next film, Da yue bing (1986), was also a prize winner.

In 1987, Chen moved to New York when he received a scholarship to study filmmaking at NYU. His first big international hit was Farewell My Concubine (1993). The story takes place in a Peking opera troupe, and because his father made many Peking opera films, Chen asked him to work on the film. Chen’s father has since passed away, but Chen says, “A few of his movies survived the Cultural Revolution, and one of them, The Song of Youth, is famous in China.” Farewell My Concubine won many awards, including a BAFTA award for “Best Film not in the English Language” and a Golden Globe for “Best Foreign Language Film” as well as an Oscar® nomination for cinematography. The film was a commercial success, making millions of dollars at the box office.

His film The Emperor and the Assassin (1999) had the distinction of being the most expensive film ever made by a Chinese director, and was nominated for the Golden Palm award when it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. For his next project, Chen decided to return to his roots and make a film about a violin prodigy and his father. He came up with the idea after seeing a television program about a real prodigy, and he co-wrote the screenplay as well as directed the film, called Together (2003).


The Promise (2006)
Together (2003)
Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet (2002)
Killing Me Softly (2002)
The Emperor and the Assassin (1999)
Temptress Moon (1996)
Farewell My Concubine (1993)
Life on a String (1991)
King of the Children (1987)
Da yue bing (1986)
Huang tu di (1984)

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