Movie Review: Mei Lanfang (or Chen's $15 Million Apology?)

Mei Lanfang (or its English name, "Forever Enthralled") hit Chinese theaters last week and has received a fairly positive response. It stars Li Ming (Mei Lanfang) and Zhang Ziyi (Meng Xiaodong), alongside Sun Honglei (Qu Rubai) and Chen Hong (Fu Zhifang) and is a look at Mei's life from his childhood, the beginning of his acting career, his romance, his trip abroad, the beginning (and end) of the Japanese occupation.

Mei Lanfang is by far the most famous Peking Opera star ever, known around he world for having played a variety of "Dan" female roles to perfection. The movie focuses on Mei's struggles rising up against a strict grandfather figure and later his tear between his wife and his desire for Meng. It also, correctly, shows his brave stand to refuse to perform, despite pressure and threats from the Japanese.

The movie is beautifully shot (often at Beihai Park) and well acted, especially Li Ming, who had a very difficult task. And while I'm not a fan of Zhang, I think she did a great job in her role and talked like a real Beijinger. While websites say it clocks in at 90 minutes, my feeling is that it was a little closer to 150 minutes and dragged on at times.

What's with the title? Chen's first great movie, Farewell My Concubine, that many feel was loosely based on Mei, was viewed negatively by Peking Opera aficionados and Mei's family due to its portrayal of the Dan actor as gay and his submission to the Japanese during the war.

If it was meant as an apology, this is an excellent one. While its a more accurate portrayal of Mei's life, I'd be curious as to truly how accurate it is. I'd recommend the movie, though with the caveat that it could be tightened up a bit.

PS: Is this China's first non-Mao, non-Party related biopic?

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