Until Farewell, My Concubine (Ba Wang Bie Ji), not many people were aware that most members of the Peking Opera were originally orphans or illegitimate castaways with nowhere else to turn.
Such is the case of the film's protagonists, Duan Xiaolou (Zhang Fengyi) and Cheng Dieyi (Leslie Cheung), two homeless outcasts, trained from childhood in the grueling rigors of the Opera by master Lu Qui. The film traces the 52-year friendship between Xiaolou and Dieyi, a friendship pockmarked with fiery conflicts and tender reconciliations.
Though the delicate Dieyi specializes in female roles and the gutsy Xiaolou plays noble warriors, theirs is an essentially heterosexual relationship; still, when Xiaolou takes upon himself a prostitute bride (the magnificent Gong Li), Dieyi is as petty and jealous as an outcast mistress.
Farewell, My Concubine holds the viewer in thrall from start to finish; as such, it is thoroughly deserving of its many international film awards and nominations.
Surprisingly, this worldwide success was something of a flop in its home country of China; perhaps it hit too close to home for those viewers who'd lived through the same years so painstakingly recreated in the film.