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Farewell, My Concubine by Chen Kaige

Essay by   •  November 4, 2018  •  Book/Movie Report  •  555 Words (3 Pages)  •  65 Views

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The Gaze

Farewell, My Concubine is a drama film directed by Chen Kaige in 1993 adapted from Li Bihua's novel of the same name. It is one of Chen Kaigai's signature work which determines his leading status as a young director in the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers - a movement that increases the international reputation of Chinese cinemas. Several famous performers starred in Farewell, My Concubine including Leslie Cheung (Cheng Dieyi), Zhang Fengyi (Duan Xiaolou), and Gong Li (Ju Xian). Farewell My Concubine starts with the childhood of two male protagonists (Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou) as orphans in a training theater when Dieyi specializes in a female role (the concubine), and Xiaolou plays the masculine character of the king when Dieyi develops a heterosexual connection with Xiaolou (Chen Kaige, Farewell, My Concubine). The film describes a triangle relationship between the three protagonists ends up with tragedies during the Chinese Cultural Revolution as Ju Xian kills herself.

According to Laura Mulvey, the gaze refers to the male gaze when females are viewed as objects from the eyes of heterosexual which serves the males' perspectives (“Visual and Other Pleasures", 16). In the scene, the producer utilizes headshot and eye-level shot to capture the full facial and body interactions between the protagonists. Visual excitement is highlighted by using bright colors and by tracking camera actions.

The scene regarding the gendered gaze in Farewell, My Concubine starts at the first-time Ju Xian shows up as a head prostitute in the brothel. Ju Xian is chased by a group of drunken men who insult and attempt to touch her. Ju Xian refuses and jumps from the second floor of the brothel to ask Xiaolou for help. Those men follow her to Xiaolou and ask him to stay away from their entertainment. The set character of Ju Xian as a prostitute represents the reality of women being a subject of gaze in this film. In this scene, Ju Xian is presented as the center of the spectacle from males' view. Ju Xian is in the passive position viewed and played by men. The men are superior to the females; they recognize ladies as tools for entertainment. The scene also creates a hierarchy of men while those males insult Ju Xian and they treat Ju Xian as commodities because they have paid. This scene is of great importance to the whole cinema since it foreshadows the complicated relationship between protagonists. It also uses female's resistance towards men as a contradiction of the Confucianism and serves for as a metaphor for following stories.

Mulvey claims that there is deeply-rooted gender power asymmetry in the contemporary film industry (Visual and Other Pleasures", 19). However, in my opinion, gender differences impact peoples' viewpoints when watching films. For instance, as a viewer in my position, I don't feel comfortable when watching this scene because I can feel the disrespect expressed by the men. Female watchers may feel the inequity between males and females in this scene while the female protagonist is a prostitute. However, somehow, this scene in Farewell, My Concubine do presents Ju Xian's characters as a symbol of resistance to the inequality of men and women and progress towards gender liberty.

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