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Apparently the Chinese government has commissioned a propaganda/history/epic film about modern China under communism: With all the anniversary celebrations, I’m not surprised – I don’t necessarily object, either, as I haven’t seen the film (and probably never will).

What I do object to is Chen Kaige’s involvement in the film. It’s possible that he was made some kind of offer he couldn’t refuse, or maybe he even plays an anti-Communist insurgent or something – I don’t know. But the reason I (and probably a lot of Western film audiences) know his name is that he made a wonderful, emotional and perhaps deeply personal movie that spoke out against the idea that the authority of Communism, or any government, should supersede or try to control the creation of art. The movie in question, Farewell My Concubine, revolves around the lives of two Beijing opera stars and follows them from the end of the Warlord era to the emergence of Communism. One of the supporting characters, Xiao Si, is a young man who’s semi-adopted by the opera stars and later becomes a fervent Communist. His conflicts with the main characters and their artistic ideologies could be read as a reflection of Chen’s personal experience – as a teenager, Chen Kaige was also an ardent Communist, to the point of turning in his own father. This relationship is echoed in the film to devastating effect, and drives home the portrayal of Communism as the enemy of art, aesthetics, understanding of tradition and the factors that create modern art and culture, and of course basic human freedoms and dignity.

All this is to say that I don’t really understand what Chen Kaige is doing in a pro-Communist, government-sponsored propaganda movie. If he’s there because the government says he has to be (or else), that’s one thing. If he’s there of his own free will, that’s troubling and sad.


Written by Kelly Kanayama

October 23, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Actually, from a report I heard on NPR from a critic who’s seen it, the movie is pro-capitalism to the point of historical inaccuracy. One of the major themes is that Communism can’t work on its own, and that China has to “work with the capitalists and democracy advocates” to sustain itself. The idea was to make a film that conformed to “new” Chinese ideals, rather than one that portrayed old, hard-line communism.

    Apparently there’s one particular scene wherein Mao wanders the streets trying to buy cigarettes, but finds that every store is closed because the shopkeepers have fled.


    November 24, 2009 at 12:31 am

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