_ A night at the


Chen Kaige talks to Andrew Pulver about award-winning epic Farewell My Concubine.

Trailing clouds of glory after becoming the first Chinese film to be awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes (an award shared with The Piano), Chen Kaige‘s Farewell My Concubine is set to become the most seen and talked about Chinese movie to make it over to the West. Based on a best-selling novel by Lilian Lee. it‘s a project that has been five years in the making: the real secret of its success. though. is the fact that it mixes an epically romantic story with an encyclopaedic presentation of 20th century Chinese history through the dramatically colourful medium of Peking Opera.

The film‘s title is a reference to one of the Opera‘s most famous traditional storylines that of a serveant-wife who takes her own life in order to save her master. who is fleeing from his enemies. The main characters of the movie are themselves Opera actors, who specialise in the aforementioned roles both. significantly. are men. as Opera relies on female impersonation. ‘l didn‘t know that much about Peking Opera before i read the novel.‘ explains Chen Kaige. ‘l liked the basic interaction between the two actors. and that‘s why I decided to do it. My father. also a filmmaker. is a big Opera fan. and he told me stories about the old days. and I started to like it. It‘s a very

beautiful. difficult, decadent an form that’s why I like it.‘

Peking Opera. with its gaudy costumes. piercing singing and precise acrobatic display. requires years of rigorous training before actors can master the traditional roles. and much of the first section ofthe film is set in ; an Opera school before World War ll.

2 where the protagonists meet. However. like other indigenous Asian an forms.

5 Opera is under threat from sweeping Americanisation. ‘They can‘t get

! students easin because no one wants to undergo that kind of physical hardship.’ l explains Chen. ‘They prefer rock 'n'

3 roll. The cultural situation in China

i now is very strange: people are busy

I making money. that's the only thing

, they're concerned about. Chinese

i people have been poor for so long; but i

i can‘t think in these terms. Who we are.

; what kind of culture. what's our

I identity these are the kinds of

' questions I want to ask. l'm afraid that - one day we'll be people who have a lot I of money. but who are still very poor.

; Spiritualiy.‘

i The film also acts as an overview of fifty years of Chinese history.

Farewell My Concubine: ‘yearning love story dramatised through the turbulent events of Communist rule'

dramatising a yearning love story (through the turbulent events of ICommunist rule. In the forefront. naturally enough. is the Cultural Revolution (which began in l966). the ltraumatic paroxysm of violence and {destruction which sought to erase the l ‘disloyalty’ ofintellectualism. ‘Nobody . told you what to do.‘ recalls the

, director. ‘but you thought you would die ifyou didn’t do it. I was an eye- f witness to a lot ofthese things. i ! denounced my father in public because i l was forced to. My father was chosen

I as a secret spy i knew he was not. but i I did this because I wanted to show my ! loyalty to the Communist Party. That i was the turning-point ofmy life.

3 Everybody believed in Communism at E that time. but what happened broke the beautiful dream. You cannot blame the ' character in the film. He is not an

! individual. he was part ofa social i machine. But on the other hand. he still A has choice. Unfortunately. he is very 3 selfish that‘s the point I want to


Chen. though. is no reformist

firebrand: ‘All I'm interested in is telling a story about people who go

through a difficult period. about someone who stays faithful to his art. to what he believes in.‘ But in China. where any public act comes under inevitable official scrutiny. Chen still can‘t avoid brushes with the authorities. Farewell My Concubine has been banned twice. but is currently playing to big audiences. and approval from the West has undoubtedly played a role in ensuring its home release. ‘lt's because of political considerations. because the film is well known. They have cut things they don‘t like from the film —I don‘t know exactly what - so lam afraid to go to see the film in China.‘ Interference is nothing new for Chinese filmmakers, with the result that despite producing some of the world‘s most consistently inventive and inspiring cinema during the last decade at least the work of the so-called Fifth Generation group ofdirectors is as familiar to the Western arthouse circuit as to their natural home-based audience. Farewell My Concubine. with its clutch of star actors (including Red Sorghum and Raise The Red Iantern‘s Gong Li) and consciously accessible narrative. looks set to bridge the gap as it brings a touch of Hollywood style to the Chinese experience. ‘l was in the US for three years and l was pretty comfortable in New York.’ Chen concludes. ‘But I am still Chinese; I'm still concerned with whatever happens to my own country. The difficulty is that the pressures make my work more significant. But I believe that because Chinese people have suffered so much through war. revolution. political chaos that makes China a very big source of stories. and there are still a lot ofthings i want to tell through my films.‘ Farewell My Concubine opens at the Cameo, Edinburgh. on Friday 7 January and the Glasgow Film Theatre on Friday 2/ January.

Jewel in the sun

Fourteen years on from his first independent hit, Gal Young ’Iln (1979), writer/director Victor llunez scored again with Ruby In Paradise, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and cited, along with Scorsese’s Age Of Innocence, as the

best American film of 1993 by the flew ;

York Post. The story tells of iiuby lee Gissing, a young woman who leaves behind the drudgery of her home life and heads for the ‘lledneck IIlviera’ of West Florida. Life, love, personal discovery - the typical elements of what is too often flippantly dismissed as a “woman’s film’; but what sets iluby In Paradise apart is the star- making central performance by newcomer Ashley Judd.

‘iluby already has an implicit understanding that life is hard,’ reckons the 24-year-old actress, ‘and that there is an ebb and flow to fortunes - both spiritual and financial

terrific sense of peace about life’s changes. Back in this small town in Tennessee where she’s from, there was a very laid-out life that was destined for her, which she saw in the lives of her friends. And her spirit, basically, rebels. She thinks there’s something beyond the horizon - she may or may not like it - but she’ll shrivel up and die if she doesn’t try to find out. flow, I love it when I go back to the town where I went to university and see women my age who have the same haircut they’ll probably have

Ashley Judd: ‘star-making central perforinance’

- so what she’s looking for is to have a when they’re 50. They are little

matching versions of their great- grandmothers and their grandmothers and their mothers, doing the country club circuit, and I think that’s absolutely adorable. But I know that, like iiuby, lwouldn’t be happy doing that.’

The university in question is the University of Kentucky, where the Appalachian-bred Judd graduated in anthropology, and was ready for a lengthier spell in academia (following a tour in the Peace Corps) until she decided to pack it all in and head for

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Hollywood three years ago. Sister of Wynonna and daughter of flaomi - the country-singing Judds - Ashley’s first work came in TV, including an intermittent role as Ensign lefler in Star Trek: The llext Generation, and she’ll be seen later in 1994 in Oliver Stone’s rendition of Quentin Tarantino’s script liatural Born Killers. It may be a while, however, before she finds herself with as complex and fulfilling a female lead as liuby.

‘You say so few American movies have a role like that for women,’ she points out. ‘I don’t know if they even have a role like that for men. I rarely

, see things treated with honesty and

truthfulness, even when it’s very involved with the male character. This movie focuses on the reality of microscopic daily activities, such as having tea or brushing teeth, as well as more enduring themes like relationships and balance. I knew that, with this script, I could go moment-to moment, and that it would be about the things at hand as well as something more overriding and important. This script contains more levels of expression than anything I have ever read.’ (Alan Morrison)

ltuby In Paradise opens at the Cameo, Edinburgh, on Friday 26 December.

The List l7 December l993—l 3 January l994 27