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  • samuelding8517 February 2009
    Chinese director Chen Kaige did the Chinese proud by directing Farewell My Concubine in 1993, which turns out to be the first Chinese film to receive an Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Features (1994) and brings home The Golden Palm Awards in 1994 Cannes Film Festival.

    Farewell tells us a story of 2 Peking opera actors and the bond shared between both from the 1930's till the early 90's. Today, Chen wants to bring the magic back again, and here we have his latest feature, Forever Enthralled. Also known as Mei Lanfang in Mandarin, the film serves to be a tribute to the late Peking opera master, Mei Lanfang, who was not only well known for portraying female roles in the play, but also being the first Chinese actor to performed in America.

    Sad to the say, the magic seems to fail despite placing lots of effort to bring the life story of the late Peking opera master to screen.

    In a duration of 147 minutes, you will see the life of Mei in three stages: teenager, young adult in his 20's, and a more matured Mei in his 40's. Featuring Leon Lai as Mei in his adulthood and Sun Honglei as Qiu Rubai, the movie should be renamed as 'Mei Lanfang and Qiu Rubai - The Two Sworn Brothers'. This can be supported with Qiu Rubai attracted and bedazzled with Mei's skills in portraying a female role, which leads him to support Mei's career in various ways.

    From the young Mei Lanfang competing with his actor grandfather, short romance with fellow actress Meng Xiaodong (Zhang Ziyi) after married to another fellow actress Fu Zhifang (Chen Hong), to how he refused to performed for the Japanese during World War 2, Qiu Rubai has always been with Mei Lanfang in all ways.

    The main highlight of the film which keeps the audience going on for more will be the first 50 minutes of the film. A teenage Mei (Yu Shaoqun) was a famous actor, which makes him to go a path less traveled by changing the style in a Peking opera. The conflict between his grandfather and Mei shows how Mei wants to change the presentation of the opera, so as to live up to the words left by his great grandfather, where Mei is to bring Peking opera to a new level where actors gained their respects. By defying his grandfather's wishes and creates a new play, Mei has become more famous than ever, which leads him to his stardom for the next few decades.

    This is the only part of the story that really lives up to the title. The moment Mei reaches adulthood, the story has fall flat, unfortunately. Even when Chen Kaige wants to highlight the important point of Mei being the first Chinese actor to perform in America, it fails to salvage the remaining parts of the story. Being the most important point of the story, it was given a mere 10 minutes to summarize Mei's fame in America. Yu Shaoqun shines as a young Mei, where not only he was given ample time to portray his inner struggle, but also appears in various plays in the film. Leon, however, doesn't get much chance to put on the thick makeup and impersonates the beauties of the past in his play.

    Too much focuses were given to Mei's romance with Meng, and how Mei refused to performed for the Japanese. Zhang's appearance of Meng takes up only 30 minutes of the story, despite being highlighted as the leading actress. Apart from a bad dubbed over during her opera performances, Zhang wasn't given much chance to explore her role. Chen Hong gets a bigger share in terms of appearances, but less lines. Her appearance as a middle-aged Fu Zhifang is a replacement of younger Fu Zhifang, portrayed by Gillian Chung. Chung's appearance in the film has been removed after the nude photo scandal in 2008, which has unfortunately, damaged part of the film. One will not know how Mei befriends Fu and in the later years of their life, husband and wife.

    It was Sun Honglei who makes the film watchable. Playing Qiu Rubai from an adult to an elderly, his influence towards Mei has changed Mei's life, which was described in detail.

    It is not surprising that one will compare Forever Enthralled with Farewell My Concubine. In all, Mei Lanfang shines in the real life, but Farewell My Concubine will still be everyone's favorite in reel life.
  • I got to watch this trailer inadvertently when it was part of a montage sequence honouring Chen Kaige with the Akira Kurosawa Award during last year's Tokyo International Film Festival, and I was actually thrilled to have caught glimpses of it. I thought the boo-boys were out too early in lamenting Chen's choice of Leon Lai in the titular role, thinking that he would ruin what would be a decent biopic about one of China's greatest opera singer.

    To me, those fears were quite unfounded, as I felt Leon Lai actually did reasonably well when under the thick operatic makeup to transform himself for his stage persona, from Mei Wanhua to Mei Lanfang, where portrays only female characters. But of course if put side by side with Chinese actor Yu Shaoqun, Lai paled considerably as Yu was obviously the better of the two, portraying the younger Mei who found his true calling when opportunity came knocking on his door, and deciding to seize it, yet being mindful all the time of where his roots were.

    And the best parts were of course the first act, where Mei decides to up the ante and challenge his master, the then largest opera star Shi Sanyan (Wang Xueqi) to a show-down of sorts if you will. Under his master's wing, he finds himself somewhat stifled in not being able to explore his roles much further, given the master's fear that his thunder will be stolen. At the encouragement of maverick magistrate and future sworn brother / business manager Qiu Rubai (Sun Honglei), he finds some new found confidence to test waters while still keeping true to the core of his character, thus earning new praise, and given one's talent with nothing much to lose, one will go for broke - win and you win all, lose and you have really no reputation at stake, in contrary to his master.

    It's about control, or the lack thereof. From early on we learn that actors in the days of the crumbling of the Chinese monarchy that they do not have any respect, and have to play to the whims of those with power, money and fame. Even then the child actors have to pander to lords with a penchant for young boys. Mei does not buckle his self-worth, and is pretty clear that while he portrays ladies in more feminine terms than real ladies, that it does not make him easy fodder. And we follow through his life how he does not get to live the life he wants to lead, but rather according to both the rules and regulations of the stage, as well as the same off it in society. Be it instructions from his managers, his wife Zhifang (Chen Hong) or the Japanese occupiers, each seemingly want to exert an influence over his career and personal life, not so much for personal gain, but to propagate that legend and persona so carefully crafted over the years.

    Naturally Mei finds an avenue to fight back, and does so through an affair of the heart. While he portrays females on stage, he meets his equal in Meng Xiaodong (Zhang Ziyi), who is his mirror opposite, the best in the business in playing male characters. Together they blaze a trail of glory, and naturally leads to tongues wagging. While Zhang Ziyi may share top billing, in actual fact she's nothing more than a supporting role, coming in only in the middle portion to highlight Mei's need for escape from his rigid world.

    Much is said about the supporting actors doing a far better job than the leads, and that is true, in a nice way. My respect for the Chinese actors have grown from watching a number of indie and mainstream films, and I can't credit the likes of Sun Honglei, Chen Hong, Wang Xueqi and especially Yu Shaoqun in being nothing less than superb each time they come on screen to chew up the scenery. It's not really fair to say the leads acted poorly, because the supporting cast had raised the bar in delivery, which adds to the enjoyment of the film.

    I can never forget the really poor movie in The Promise which Chen Kaige made a couple of years back. The story was so bad it allowed the special effects to run wild in trying to salvage the show. There aren't a lot of Chinese bio-pics (or at least those I have watched) in recent years that were non-martial arts related (think Ip Man, Wong Fei-Hung, Fong Sai-Yuk, Huo Yuanjia etc), and somehow I'm glad Chen Kaige found his mojo back to helm this, and in far elegant terms that I'm now better convinced to check out more of his filmography. He was able to shift gears quite effortlessly between distinct acts of the narrative, which straddled a timeline from after the Qing Dynasty to after the surrender of the Japanese. However, there might seem to be a quantum leap in addressing issues towards the last 30 minutes, but for everything else, it was paced quite evenly to keep you interest from waning.

    Forever Enthralled has all the ingredients of a credible epic, from beautiful set designs and art direction, to a wonderful soundtrack and elegant costumes, Chen Kaige does not scrimp in making this film look and feel just like it would back in those days of sheer opulence. While opera may be an artform that is dwindling here, don't let the Peking Opera focus here put you off, as you just might find some reason to want to watch the real thing if you have the opportunity to. Definitely recommended.
  • If you don't know anything about China and mei lanfang, I am sure that this movie is a little too hard to understand. After all, not every Chinese likes the Beijing opera. Just like many westerns are fascinated by the European royal families, many Asians don't really care about them at all. So it is the cultural thing.

    Over all, this is a good movie, but it is a little too long. Of course, it is hard to tell a life story of a person for such a short time.

    Shi Sanyan is really amazing. I felt as if he was indeed born in that time. It is also probably because I have never seen him on the screen before, so his performance was very fresh and authentic. Most of the supporting roles are very well performed. My mother thinks that the younger version of mei lanfang was better than the older version. The older version looks too stiff. I sort of agree with her.

    I am writing this comment because there are only nine comments before me. After all, this is a good movie, it deserves for more comments.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    After going somewhat astray with "Wu ji" (2005), director Chen, his loyal followers are happy to see, is back in form with this biopic of China's legendary Beijing Opera icon MEI Lanfang. While general consensus has it that this film does not quite reach the height of "Farewell my concubine" (1993), it is a step in the right direction, especially when you shudder at the realization of how low his one-time camera man ZHANG Yimou can sink, with the likes of "House of flying daggers" (2004) and "Curse of the golden flower" (2006). People just have to realise that not everybody can be Ang Lee. But I digressed.

    Structurally, two-and-a-half-hours "Forever enthralled" can be seen as a film in two parts. Part One, comprising the first 60 minutes, is "young Mei", without the stars Leon Lai and Ziyi Zhang. The ensuing 90 minutes is "middle-age Mei", covering the main events in his life from a top artist's predicament, an affair with a fellow artist, tremendous challenge of bringing a totally alien art form to New York, surviving with integrity and dignity during the Japanese occupation and triumphant return to the stage after victory. On the surface, this second half should constitute the soul of the film. And indeed, it is well acted and well shot. However, if you can only see half of this film, it should, without question, be the first half. It is just superb.

    Let me go into the second half first. Leon Lai portrays an introvert, emotionally lonely Mei at the height of his career, but seems to be in constant fear: fear that he cannot maintain his performance at the pinnacle, fear of life in general. While there are almost inevitable verdicts from some critics that he is poker-faced, Lai deserves better. While Mei shows little emotion, at least as portrayed in this script, there are times when nuances come through, especially his transformation in the New York venture and his determined resistance of the Japanese demand that he perform during their occupation of Beijing. Lai in general handles his role credibly.

    While Mei pays little attention to anything outside his art, two people virtually run his life. One is his mentor QIU Rubai, played by the larger-than-life villain you saw in "Seven swords" (2005), SUN Honglei – "playing against type – an actor of usually masculine parts finds fulfillment in the role of a thinker" as a local magazine aptly asserts. It is a role that Sun fills extremely well, stealing many a scene from our lead hero. The other is his pragmatic, no-nonsense wife FU Zhifang, played by CHEN Hong whom, if you have seen the aforementioned "Wu ji", cannot fail to remember as Goddess Manshen, with the most ridiculous hair-style that anyone has ever seen. Chen has turned in a solid performance.

    Ziyi Zhang is billed as the female lead not so much because of the screen time she has been allocated as the importance of her role MENG Xiaodong, an actress with whom Mei not only had the chance to collaborate, but also to fall in love. In her relationship with Mei, Meng is at various times coy, flirty, professional, affectionate and coldly determined. This is the best yet that I have seen of Zhang's performance.

    This "second half" then has all the elements and ingredient of high melodrama. It plays out as such, albeit at the high end of the scale of artistic melodrama.

    It is the first half that lifts this film a couple of notches. It has none of the stars in the second half, except for Sun, as Qiu appears very early in Mei's life. The theme of this first half is quite simple: Mei's rise to stardom through a dual of artistic talent with his grandfather and teacher, Shisanyan (or "thirteenth swallow", his stage name). The two initially perform side-by-side but when Mei's quest for innovation becomes almost insatiable, the two not only split up, but also end up in fierce competition. There is no animosity, only artistic pride and strive for excellence. Young YU Shaoqun plays youth Mei to perfection, and would have you believe that he has decades of acting experience behind him. But it is veteran WANG Xueqi's (the eccentric villain in "The warriors of heaven and earth" (2003)) portrayal of Shisanyan that is above perfection. Rather than a one-dimensional rigid old actor from the traditional school, Shisanyan is a human being of flesh and blood, proud but not vain, never patronizing his grandson and protégé who dares to challenge him. In Shisanyan's last show, to an all but empty theatre, we see two layers of unexcelled performance, by Shisanyan with tragic pride, and by Wang, playing Shisanyan. Then, there is the scene between young Mei and Shisanyan that will break the most cynical of hearts.

    The first hour of "Forever enthralled" is cinema at its best. The rest is just bonus.
  • findingmills5 December 2008
    Accompanied by two girl mates, I went to watch Mei Lanfang. When "the end" showed on the screen, I found that both of them were crying. To be honest, I was a little bit confused at that moment--does it really worth the tear? Compared with Cheng Kaige's previous film "Wu Ji", "Mei Lanfang" is really a good movie, just good. It is not the first time for Cheng to make a film connected with Pecking opera. In 1993, his Golden Palm winning film" Ba Wang Bie Ji" really made the history. Althoug "Mei Lanfang" is a biographic film about the most famous Chinese Pecking opera actor, although it is more than 2 hours long, it failed to reach "Ba Wang Bie Ji"standard, just too slight.
  • Dear Director,

    I can't help keeping comparing this movie with Farewell My Concubine, one of the best Chinese movies I have seen, which was also directed by you. Yes, having the same director, both tell us a story of Peking Opera singer(s), and both cover a turbulent era of certain decades during the twentieth century in China. I have to say, however, this one is disappointing, in many ways.

    I have no doubt about your directing skills just by watching Farewell My Concubine. There, the roles were hysteria, and it's original, intensive, surprising, and thrilling. In Forever Enthralled, you tried to use the exactly same style, but unfortunately, it feels unnatural and overdone, as you were transfered from a brave pioneer to a boring follower of the previous yourself.

    Like all types of arts, a real master piece can't be duplicated. Same as motion pictures. Farewell My Concubine is such a master piece that any mimicking trials afterwards, intentionally or not, turns out to fail, even though they are from the same director. There's nothing wrong to make another film of Peking Opera singers, but just don't use the same skill again and again.

    Dear Screen Play Writers,

    Did you realize the story is unbalanced? The first half of this film drags too long and the pace is way too slow, unnecessarily slow. I know you may want to emphasize Master Mei's earlier life experience that affected him so much, but the title of this film is not "The Teenager hood of Mei Lanfang".

    Visiting the US actually was an important experience of Mei and also a great step to give him the opportunity to gain the international fame. However, your film made this part too weak. It's finished in such a hurry in the audiences' applause before I got a chance to focus on the singing of the leading actor. Is this a trick just because the actor couldn't perform the Opera well even though he is a pop singer? Check La Vie en Rose (2007) to see how a movie about a singer can make the singing magnificent.

    Dear Ziyi Zhang,

    I didn't see much improvement of your acting skills from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Not bad, but not good enough either. Yes I'm picky. But it has a long way to go before a actor/actress becomes a top one.

    Dear Leon Lai,

    Maybe they picked you for this role because you're a singer, but this role turned out to be too weak and too blurry. Maybe this is not your fault. They just didn't select the right person to act Master Mei. Imagine in the movie Dream Girls (2006): if Beyonce played Effie White, the situation would be insanely different.

    Dear Honglei Sun,

    I usually don't like those characters you played in the movie, but this one is an exception. Congratulations! You acted so well that I thought this movie should be called "The Story of Mei and His Brother Qiu". YOU ARE LITERALLY THE LEADING ACTOR. They didn't give enough chance to let Mei sing, but you got enough chance to act, and acted the best compared with others in this movie. In this movie, you were a super fan of Peking Opera and a super fan of Mei. You quit your staple teaching job and followed Mei to explore his career, felt happier about his every success than himself, worried him more than anybody else when he was in trouble, and helped him become a real master. Good job! Good for Brother Qiu, but not that good for this film, because this film is not supposed to only focus on Brother Qiu.

    Dear Team,

    Sorry, frankly speaking, this movie is not enthralled.
  • robhaines-116 September 2016
    I am really surprised by some of the negative reviews of this film. In my view this is to thoroughly underrate it. When I watched this on DVD, I did not know that it was directed by the same person who directed Farewell My Concubine (Kaige Chen) also seen on DVD quite a while ago. It is not the same film and it did not strike me as a weak regurgitation of FMC. The plot kept me engaged and it did not feel too long, in fact I would have liked to have known what happened afterwards. It is beautifully staged and the cinematography is excellent. How historically accurate the film is I'm not sure. If you read the Wikipedia article about Mei Lanfang, his love-life was rather more complicated (and productive) than portrayed. The major historical 'facts' I am sure are accurate. The portrayal of personal life, relationships and emotions must inevitably be more conjecture and some aspects have to be simplified. Nevertheless, I loved this film and it way exceeded my expectations. I also love Farewell My Concubine - in my opinion if you love that film you will most likely enjoy this one - though clearly other reviewers disagree!
  • Victoriah0615 December 2008
    This film was infuriating to watch. It boasts a very talented cast alright, but it is a far cry, nay, hardly an echo of FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE. It's almost like the director was trying to COPY snippets of his old self. Given that Farewell is one of my favorite films, I was utterly disappointed in Chen Kaige. He has completely lost his touch. From the hardly notable art direction, costumes, cinematography to foremost, the long and tedious plot which never builds into anything, Chen is a goner. In fact, I would say the fifth generation Chinese film directors are no longer worth watching. They have too much money and access and they are already devoid of stories to tell.

    Do not do what countless Chinese are doing, going to the movie just to criticize it. It generates box office money and gives the wrong sort of support to directors who no longer deserve to make films.

    I felt sick after 2.5 hours watching this tedious show.
  • etudiantemo8 December 2008
    Though I don't have much knowledge in Pekin Opera, this traditional Chinese art is enchanting to us. The first part of this film reminded us of Farewell to My Concubine (a film directed by Chen Kaige decades ago) as it's nearly an imitation of homosexual love. I had to agree with Tracy when she said the "great" director made "Broken Back Mount" again disguised in our traditional art form, a mundane story in a luxurious robe ( a bad metaphor or simile) . The background music is genial, triggering your memory for a film decades ago.Luckily, the appearance of Zhang Ziyi at the middle of the stage, in white robe halts the tune of love between two men. THe two lovers fall into love as planned, a mediocre plot again. But destine or fate or enthusiasm for art or unfair life get them close to each other but separate them later no matter how much gallantry artists show on stage or in life. Although it's featured by super stars, the protagonist fail to distinguish in continuous conflict of paradox, every role seems to have his or her own charm to trigger sympathy from the audience. I want to say Pekin Opera is a traditional art of long and glorious history with a galaxy of artists dedicated to it. Maybe it's true sometimes it is associated with hidden oppression on human emotion and thinking and manifest its extremism in aestheticism in seeming like abnormality of human being or sometimes the Pekin opera singers outdid themselves in rendition of blend of sentiments, however, the tremendous artistic beauty survives the deviation from authentic art.
  • The choice of Zhang's cast is not at all convincing, she is too short and tiny to play an emperor on stage with Lai.

    Chinese opera is a lot more demanding artistically and physically compared to the Western one as each cast small or big requires to sing, dance, let alone performing using expressions such as eyes and fingers, and the highly acrobatic moves. Unfortunately, we didn't see much acting of hers in Forever Enthralled.

    The actor playing the young Mei is excellent though and odd to be praised though. For films like this perhaps they are better off sticking to proper Chinese opera actors and actresses.
  • smallbob17 December 2008
    I went in not expecting much as my Chinese isn't perfect yet and I knew it was going to be a chore trying to keep up with the words but I found it wasn't too bad to understand. In the end though I just didn't really see it as that good of a film, the script was mediocre and the acting was at times overly dramatic, even for Chinese films. I thought it was just me at first as the girl next to me was crying during the film but my friend who was also watching turned to me and said "That was terrible..." and she is Chinese so i think it really was just not very good. My Chinese is coming along and I've started to really enjoy watching Chinese movies in Chinese if only for the interest of testing my language skills but this was just not worth it. I would have preferred to go see one of the others I've already seen than to sit through this one.