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Chen Kaige ( ) (born August 12, 1952) is a Chinese film director and a leading figure of the fifth generation of Chinese cinema. His films are known for their visual flair and epic storytelling.

Early life

Chen Kaige was born in Beijing into a family of Fuzhoumarker Changlemarker origin, and grew up with fellow Fifth Generation alumnus Tian Zhuangzhuang as a childhood friend. During the Cultural Revolution, Chen joined the Red Guards. His father, Chen Huai'ai was a well-known director in his own right. As a teenage member of the Red Guards, Chen, like many other youths, denounced his own father, a fateful decision he eventually learned to regret. Indeed, this period of his life continues to influence much of his work today, notably in the unblinking depictions of the Cultural Revolution in Farewell My Concubine, and in the father-son relationship in Together. With the end of the Cultural Revolution, Chen, in 1978 joined the Beijing Film Academy, where he graduated from in 1982 as part of the so-called Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers.

Directorial career

Upon graduating, Chen was assigned to the inland studio at Guangxi, along with fellow graduate, Zhang Yimou. His first movie, Yellow Earth (1984) established itself as one of the most important works of Fifth Generation filmmaking; though simple, its powerful visual imagery (courtesy of cinematography by Zhang) and revolutionary storytelling style marked a sea change in how films were seen and perceived in the People's Republic of China. The Big Parade (1986) and King of the Children (1987) expanded on his filmic repertoire. In 1987, he was awarded a fellowship by the Asian Cultural Council and served as a visiting scholar at the New York University Film School. Early in 1989, he did further experimenting in a music video for the song "Do You Believe In Shame" by Duran Duran. Later that year, he made Life on a String, a highly esoteric movie which uses mythical allegory and lush scenery to tell the story of a blind sanxian musician and his student.

His most famous film in the West, Farewell My Concubine (1993), nominated for two Academy Awards and winner of the Palme d'Or at 1993 Cannes Film Festival, follows two Beijing opera stars through decades of change in China during the twentieth century. Chen followed up the unprecedented success of Farewell My Concubine with Temptress Moon (1996), another period drama starring Gong Li. Though it was well received by most critics, it did not achieve the accolades that Concubine did, and many were put off by the film's convoluted plot line. Almost as famous is his The Emperor and the Assassin (1999), an epic involving the legendary King of Qin and the reluctant assassin who aims to kill him. But Kaige doesn't limit himself to epics, in 2002, Chen made his first, and to-date only English-language film, Killing Me Softly, a thriller starring Heather Graham and Joseph Fiennes, though it proved to be both a critical and popular disappointment. His more recent Together (2002) is an intimate film about a young violinist and his father. In 2005, he directed The Promise, a fantasy wuxia picture. The Promise saw Chen shifting to a more commercial mindset, a shift regarded by some as a "radical stylistic turn" from his previous works.

Chen has also acted in several films, including Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987) and his own The Emperor and the Assassin and Together.

Personal life

His first wife is Sun Jialin (孙加林,whom Chen met when Chen worked in 北京电影洗印厂 1975-1978, they married in 1983), a graduate from Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture(北京建筑工程学院),obtained Ph.D in engineering in Canada, Scientist of the year in 2002 at Dupont. Now works in Shanghai as an expat for the largest US private company. He later married Hong Huang (洪晃), the daughter of Zhang Hanzhi who was a diplomat and worked as an English translator for Mao Zedong. She graduated Vassar Collegemarker in New Yorkmarker and is the current CEO of China Interactive Media Group. After they divorced, Chen lived together with Ni Ping in the early 1990s, a female television hostess. In 1996, Chen married actress Chen Hong.


As director

Year English Title Chinese Title Notes
1984 Yellow Earth 黃土地
1986 The Big Parade 大阅兵
1987 King of the Children 孩子王
1991 Life on a String 边走边唱
1993 Farewell My Concubine 霸王别姬 Palme d'Or winner at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival
1996 Temptress Moon 风月
1999 The Emperor and the Assassin 荊柯刺秦王
2002 Killing Me Softly
2002 100 Flowers Hidden Deep Segment in the anthology film Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet
2002 Together 和你在一起 2002 Silver Seashell for Best Director at the San Sebastián International Film Festival
2005 The Promise 无极
2007 Zhanxiou Village Vignette in the anthology film To Each His Cinema
2008 Forever Enthralled 梅兰芳

As actor

Year English Title Chinese Title Role Notes
1987 The Last Emperor Captain of Imperial Guard
1999 The Emperor and the Assassin 荊柯刺秦王 Lü Buwei
2002 Together 和你在一起 Yu Shifeng

As writer

Year English Title Chinese Title Notes
1984 Yellow Earth 黃土地
1991 Life on a String 边走边唱
1996 Temptress Moon 风月
1999 The Emperor and the Assassin 荊柯刺秦王
2002 Together 和你在一起
2005 The Promise 无极

As producer

Year English Title Chinese Title Notes
2002 Together 和你在一起

See also


  1. Berry, Michael (2002). "Chen Kaige: Historical Revolution and Cinematic Rebellion" in Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers. Columbia University Press, p. 83. ISBN 0-2311-3331-6. Google Book Search. Retrieved 2008-09-10
  2. (7 January 1994) FILM / Critical Round-up
  3. (December 16, 2005) Director Banks on New Film for Box-office Success China Daily
  4. Mak Mun San, (May 21, 2007) 8 questions with... Hung Huang AsiaOne.

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