Chen Yifei was born in 1946 in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. Later he moved with his family to Shanghai.
In 1965, he graduated from the Shanghai Art Training School and began focusing on oil painting.
In 1981, he went to study in the United States and was soon accepted into arts circles. Soon Chen's work was being displayed in numerous galleries and museums in the United States, Britain, France and Japan.
In 1985, one of his pieces named "Twin Bridge" was collected by the United Nations. Another painting entitled "Hometown Recall" ("Guxiang de Huiyi") was given to Deng Xiaoping as a gift by Armand Hammer, chairman of the Occidental Petroleum Corporation of the United States.
In the past years, Chen witnessed many of his works record high prices at Christie's, Sotheby's and other auction houses in New York and Hong Kong.
The painter-turned-film director once held the record of the highest auction price for a contemporary Chinese painter. One of his masterpieces "Bygone Glory of Xunyang" ("Xun Yang Yiyun") was sold for more than HK$1.3 million (US$162,000) at a Hong Kong auction in 1991.
Chen started making movies in 1993, and in 1995, his movie "A Date at Dusk" was entered at the Cannes Film Festival.
In 1999, he launched a clothing line named Layefe, and a year later, set up two homeware outlets in Shanghai, called Layefe Home.
Meanwhile, he acted as the agent for several successful Chinese models.
In 2002, Chen started preparations on the film "The Music Box" (then called "The Barber"). At the beginning of 2003, Chen stopped shooting, and admitted conflicts with Jiang Wen, the film's former actor.
In February 2005, Chen restarted shooting the film, featuring actor Chen Kun as the hero instead of Jiang Wen.
On April 8, Chen was sent to hospital due to gastrorrhagia caused by overwork. On April 10, 2005, Chen passed away.