In Chinese film circles these days a script is going around: a sequel to Farewell My Concubine, I kid you not. I heard about it from someone who heard about it from Chris Berry who had seen the script. I haven’t layed hands on it yet, but after some poking around I came across a one page synopsis which I re-publish below.
Cheng Dieyi does not die at the end of FMC, as the audience has been led to believe; he is only injured. After an extended hospital stay in Hong Kong (financed by a wealthy Japanese businessman with family ties to Aoki of the original film) and some cosmetic surgery, he is returned to health, possessed of a new view on life. Dieyi is no longer obsessed with the purity of Beijing Opera, rather he obsessed with one thing: revenging himself on Si’er.
Credits roll atop a (now) manga-like cartoon depiction of King Yu and the Concubine with the same typical Beijing Opera sounds–these taken directly from the original.
Dieyi is now a judge on a popular talent show. Even though he is now in his seventies and has plenty of wrinkles, his face remains almost ravashingly beautiful. He is a terror on the show, often criticizing the contestants for sentimental performances completely lacking even the most basic respect for technique and reducing them to tears. Because of his popularity, he has grown wealthy. He has purchased a film lot and lives in a beautifully restored siheyuan inside it. Duan Xiaolou meanwhile barely gets by teaching make-up and costuming at the Central Academy of Traditional Chinese Arts, performance division. Dieyi and Xialou still communicate, though mostly in symbolic acts. For example, Dieyi recently blocked Xiaolou on Weixin just to spite him. Xiaolou divorced Juxian because she could not get pregnant and he has taken up with one of the female students at the Academy. Juxian has become a mean, cynical person, ruthlessly using her minor connections to secure her future, like a sexless middle aged woman pushing her way onto a crowded subway, as well as playing the Cultural Revolution guilt card whenever possible. She has sold all of the ornaments and relics she managed to keep, including the famous sword of Eunuch Zhang.
Dieyi, like everyone else in the Chinese showbiz world, is happily on the take and the opening scene is him in his dressing room on set of the talent show after filming an episode. A weeping, screaming, deranged contestant goes past his door as he is doing his Concubine Yu makeup. He grimaces in the mirror. A fancy red envelop stuffed with cash is tossed into his room, hitting the floor with a resounding slap.
The grimace dissolves.
Si’er has made progress in his career. He is now a SARFT official. He spends his days taking pleasure in crushing flickers of artistic creativity. He spends his nights at high end saunas, KTVs and yezonghui. He still fancies himself to be a great opera talent and often incorporates opera motifs in bizarre sexual encounters with prostitutes.
Into the story comes a young American documentary filmmaker with ties to Ivy league academia. He decides to make a “where are they now” type documentary. He has made a string of mildly successful but ultimately forgettable documentaries on China to work his way part-way up the ladder, but has foundered of late, bereft of new ideas, completely crippled by a fear of “orientalizing” his subject matter. He takes a sabbatical semester and goes to Beijing to start filming. His Chinese is not very good, but servicable. He contacts the protagonists and shoots over some months but the footage is basically boring and he knows it. Dieyi and Xialou are narrow, parochial sorts of people now–not interesting.
One night while getting a “foot massage” at a local massage place he’s watching a re-broadcast of highlights from Spring Festival galas of the past 10 years and hits on an idea: Dieyi and Xialou need to do a reunion concert. he will set it up and film it and that will give his documentary the dramatic arc it needs to win a prize at the Tribeca Documentary Film festival and thus secure tenure and salvage his self esteem.
Xiaolou likes the idea of the reunion concert immediately. Dieyi reluctantly agrees, only after being assured that he can keep all of the revenue, and assuring himself that the performance will certainly irk Si’er. They work their way through a variety of potential backers from property magnates to Zhang Yimou who agrees to finance it only if he can direct it and build a spectacle around it which will dwarf Turandot. It’s all absurd portraitures of people with wealth in China today.
Finally the mysterious Japanese businessman who saved Dieyi saves the day agreeing to finance it. The concert hall (The Reignwood theater) is rented and decorated to recreate to the last detail the ambiance of a Qing-era Beijing opera house. A band is hired. Rehearsals take place. Tickets are printed. Promotions are made all over town. But a few nights before the performance it leaks out on weibo that the whole thing is financed by the Japanese businessman who is a relation of a Japanese general who conquered Beijing in 1938. Because relations between China and Japan are frosty due to controversy about Diaoyu Dao,, on the night of the performance, no one shows up except the performers, the young academic who is filming it and a pair of janitors regularly employed at the theater.. They put on the show anyway, to a completely empty house. And they are brilliant.
The janitors, sweeping up, have the last lines, “真棒！” “男女你说？”“不知道！反正比我妻子漂亮!”
I find this idea most remarkable. I can’t wait to see who ends up directing it. I am hoping for Feng Xiaogang.