The epitome of Miramax’s early ‘90s foreign imports, Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine combines lush period detail, thriving melodrama, and a hint of the risqué (i.e. gayness!) to form something simultaneously sweeping, self-important and only moderately stirring. Winner of the Palm d’Or at Cannes, Kaige’s debut is a decades-spanning affair charting the relationship between two Peking Opera actors – hotheaded Shitou (Zhang Fengyi) and effeminate Douzi (Leslie Cheung) – as they achieve fame and fortune starring in the titular opera (about a king’s sacrificially suicidal concubine) during WWII, the Communist takeover and the Cultural Revolution. Weighty issues like homosexuality (a controversial subject for Beijing at the time of the film’s release), creative freedom, and the catharsis achievable through public performance permeate the proceedings, all of which Kaige shoots with an attention to grandiose period specifics and manipulative three-hanky emotions. That the film never feels totally organic – mainly because its history-lesson-via-microcosm narrative feels a bit too contrived – ultimately keeps it from achieving epic status. Still, Kaige’s cast is uniformly excellent (including Gong Li as the Yoko Ono to Fengyi’s John and Cheung’s Paul), and his episodic story’s theatrical set pieces are technically agile. And in light of the downward trajectory Kaige’s career has subsequently taken, Farewell My Concubine’s classical ambitions, though not always successful, nonetheless serve to remind one of the director’s once-promising potential.