Synopsis by Nathan Southern
Inevitably recalling director Chen Kaige's 1993 masterpiece, the international smash Farewell, My Concubine, the sumptuous period epic Forever Enthralled (originally and more elegantly given the eponymous biographical title Mei Lanfang) dramatizes the life of Lanfang (Leon Lai), widely regarded as one of the most legendary opera performers in all of Chinese history. Though a male, Lanfang built his reputation on the basis of outstanding performances as female characters, and in fact, lived out his private life buckling under the weight of repressed emotions. Kaige structurally divides the epic into segments. The film commences with a 70-minute sequence that depicts Mei's reaction to a letter from his uncle, cautioning him against the dangers of an operatic career; in the years that follow, Mei recoils from social rules (wrought by his chosen profession) that severely restrict his actions. The narrative then moves forward in time by a decade, to a point where Mei has somehow managed to bound over the said limitations and establish himself as the single most popular opera star in all of China. Conflict lingers, however -- present in Mei's repeated on-stage duels with the performer Swallow 13 (an apocryphal character who represents a composite of several real-life figures), whose style is the polar opposite of his own. Kaige then moves ahead in time to explore Mei's efforts to juggle a second marriage to Fu Zhifang (Chen Hong) and his relationship with his manager, Oju Rubai (Sun Honglei), whose passion for Mei's on-stage craft (and, possibly, a desire for Mei himself) know no bounds. Sadly, a pitfall to Mei's familial security soon presents itself in the form of a young female admirer, Meng Xiaodong (Zhang Ziyi) with whom he lapses into a love affair.
opera, repression, uncle, warning