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Chen Kaige
26th Tokyo International Film Festival Chen Kaige.jpg
Chen at the 26th Tokyo International Film Festival
Born (1952-08-12) 12 August 1952 (age 71)
Alma mater Beijing Film Academy
Occupation Film director
Years active 1984–present
Sun Jialin
(m. 1983; div. 1986)

Hung Huang
(m. 1989; div. 1991)

Chen Hong
(m. 1997)
Children 2, including Arthur Chen
Parent(s) Chen Huai'ai (father)
Liu Yanchi (mother)
Relatives Chen He (nephew)
Awards Full list
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Chen Kaige (Chinese: 陈凯歌; born 12 August 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. Chen won the Palme d'Or at 1993 Cannes Film Festival and the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Award in 1993 for directing Farewell My Concubine.

In recent years, Chen directed the war film The Battle at Lake Changjin and its sequel with Tsui Hark and Dante Lam, with the two films characterized by propagandistic storytelling and made in cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party.

Early life

Chen Kaige was born in Beijing, China into a family of Changle, Fuzhou origin, and grew up with fellow Fifth Generation alumnus Tian Zhuangzhuang as a childhood friend. His father Chen Huai'ai [zh] was a well-known director in his own right. His mother Liu Yanchi (Chinese: 刘燕驰) was a senior screenwriter. During the Cultural Revolution, Chen joined the Red Guards. 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. In 1969, Chen became a sent-down youth in Xishuangbanna Agricultural Reclamation Bureau for a short while before enlisting the People's Liberation Army (PLA) next year. In 1975, Chen was discharged from the army and returned to Beijing, where he worked as a worker in Beijing Film Printing Factory. Chen in 1978 joined the Beijing Film Academy, where he graduated in 1982 as part of the so-called Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers.

Directorial career

Upon graduating, Chen was assigned to the Guangxi Film Studio, along with a 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. In the same year, he was a member of the jury at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival.

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 Leslie Cheung and 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.

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.

In 2006, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 28th Moscow International Film Festival.

In 2008, Chen directed the semi-biography Forever Enthralled, which is a return for him in the sense of directing a film based on Chinese opera. He later went on to direct Sacrifice (2010), which is a re-imagining of the famous play The Orphan of Zhao. The film was a box-office hit and many critics saw it as his "return to form".

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

His 2012 film Caught in the Web was selected as the Chinese entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, but it did not make the final shortlist.

Personal life

Chen's first wife was Sun Jialin (孙加林), whom he met while working at the Beijing Film Factory, between 1975 and 1978; they married in 1983. That union ended and he later remarried, to Hong Huang, the daughter of Zhang Hanzhi, a diplomat who had worked as an English translator for Mao Zedong. She graduated from Vassar College in New York and is the current CEO of China Interactive Media Group. In the early 1990s, after their divorce, Chen lived with Ni Ping, a female television personality. In 1996, Chen married actress Chen Hong.

Chen Kaige is the holder of a green card to the United States.


Film (as director)

Year English Title Chinese Title Notes
1984 Yellow Earth 黃土地
1986 The Big Parade 大閱兵
1987 King of the Children 孩子王
1991 Life on a String 邊走邊唱
1993 Farewell My Concubine 霸王別姬 Palme d'Or winner at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival
1996 Temptress Moon 風月
1998 The Emperor and the Assassin 荊柯刺秦王
2002 Killing Me Softly 温柔地杀我
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 無極
2007 Zhanxiou Village Vignette in the anthology film To Each His Cinema
2008 Forever Enthralled 梅兰芳
2010 Sacrifice 趙氏孤兒
2012 Caught in the Web 搜索 Fictional treatment of the human flesh search engine.
2015 Monk Comes Down the Mountain 道士下山
2017 Legend of the Demon Cat 妖猫传
2019 My People, My Country 我和我的祖国
2020 Flowers Bloom in the Ashes 尘埃里开花
2021 The Battle at Lake Changjin 长津湖
2022 The Battle at Lake Changjin II 长津湖之水门桥

Television (as director)

Year English Tltle Chinese Title Notes
1984 Emergency Take-off 强行起飞
2002 吕布与貂蝉


Year English Title Chinese Title Role Notes
1987 The Last Emperor 末代皇帝 Captain of Imperial Guard
1999 The Emperor and the Assassin 荊柯刺秦王 Lü Buwei
2001 The Grand Mansion Gate 大宅门 An official guest
2002 Together 和你在一起 Yu Shifeng
2009 The Founding of a Republic 建國大業
2012 The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven


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


Year English Title Chinese Title Notes
1998 The Emperor and the Assassin 荊柯刺秦王
2002 Together 和你在一起
Two Women's Story 两个女人的故事
2005 The Promise 无极
2021 The Battle at Lake Changjin 长津湖
2022 The Battle at Lake Changjin II 长津湖之水门桥

Awards and nominations


Year Nominated work Award Result Notes
Cannes Film Festival
1988 (41st) King of the Children Palme d'Or Nominated
1991 (44th) Life on a String Nominated
1993 (46th) Farewell My Concubine Won
1993 (46th) Farewell My Concubine FIPRESCI Prize Won
1996 (49th) Temptress Moon Palme d'Or Nominated
1999 (52nd) The Emperor and the Assassin Nominated
Berlin International Film Festival
2009 (59th) Forever Enthralled Golden Bear Nominated
Academy Awards
1994 (66th) Farewell My Concubine Best International Feature Film Nominated
Golden Globe Awards
1994 (51st) Farewell My Concubine Best Foreign Language Film Won
2006 (63rd) The Promise Nominated
César Awards
1994 (19th) Farewell My Concubine Best Foreign Film Nominated
Tokyo International Film Festival
2008 Akira Kurosawa Award Won
Montreal World Film Festival
1987 (11th) The Big Parade Jury Grand Prize Won
Locarno Festival
1985 (38th) Yellow Earth Silver Leopard Award Won
Prize of the Ecumenical Jury Won
Thessaloniki International Film Festival
2006 (47th) Lifetime Achievement Award Won


Year Nominated work Award Result Notes
Golden Rooster Awards
2004 (22nd) Together Best Director Won
Best Picture Nominated
2009 (27th) Forever Enthralled Best Picture Won
Best Director Nominated
2020 (33rd) My People, My Country Best Director Nominated
Hundred Flowers Awards
2020 (35th) My People, My Country Best Director Nominated
Huabiao Awards
2009 (13th) Forever Enthralled Outstanding Director Won
Outstanding Film Won
2011 (14th) Sacrifice Outstanding Film Won
China Film Directors Association
2018 (9th) Legend of the Demon Cat Film of the Year Nominated
Director of the Year Nominated
Chinese Film Media Awards
2003 (3rd) Together Best Director Nominated
2011 (11th) Sacrifice Filmmaker of the Year Won
Huading Awards
2020 (27th) My People, My Country Best Film Director Award Nominated
Shanghai International Film Festival
2010 (13th) Chinese-language Film Outstanding Contribution Award Won
Beijing College Student Film Festival
2009 (16th) Forever Enthralled Best Director Won
Best Film Won
2018 (25th) Legend of the Demon Cat Best Director Nominated
Best Viewing Effect Award Won
Hong Kong Film Award
2004 (23rd) Together Best Asian Film Award Nominated
2009 (28th) Forever Enthralled Nominated
Macau International Movie Festival
2018 (10th) Legend of the Demon Cat Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Nominated

See also

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