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Lan Yu  

Country: China
Director: Stanley Kwan

Hu Jan - Handong
Liu Ye - Lan Yu

Filmed secretly in mainland China, Stanley Kwan translated a cult gay novel ("Beijing Story") which was published pseudonymously (credited to a "Beijing Comrade") to screen. Set against the tumultuous events of China during the late 1980's, Handong, the worldly, macho successful businessman son of a government official, meets the young and innocent architect student, Lan Yu, in a bar, and begins an affair which begins and ends several times throughout an unspecified period of time. In the beginning, both approach their relationship differently: while Lan Yu's feelings are sincere, Handong's laissez-faire approach causes the other much hurt and anger. Though love finally blossoms, tragedy inevitably strikes.

The circumstances surrounding the making of this film is readily apparent in the rough quality of this film, though this is by no means an amateurish production. Kwan specialises in films of doomed love and romance, their melodrama balanced by the writing, dialogue and the performances of the actors. In "Rouge", Kwan re-created the decadent world of Shanghai courtesans and complex sexual rituals, while here, perhaps due to pressure and convenience, everything is spared down to the essentials: the storyline and cinematography. I think the film suffers a little from this: for one thing, we never found out why Handong's eventual heterosexual marriage ended, nor the circumstances for the larger crises that occurred in the latter part of the film (though I suppose this would be apparent to anyone living in China or Beijing). The relationship between the two men are not examined in great detail, though Lan Yu's heartfelt words ache in their grief and pain, while Handong, for all his extrovert qualities, struggle to articulate his inner feelings, until it was too late.

Kwan is one of the very few openly gay filmmakers in Hong Kong, however I don't believe this film should be viewed in light of that fact (Kwan has often bemoaned the media's obsession with his sexuality since coming out). You might think this would be detrimental but to my surprise, I think I saw a lot more heterosexual couples (and Asian, to boot) attending this film than the supposed target gay audience. The film itself doesn't break any new grounds, but perhaps Kwan was intended to simply depict a homosexual relationship in a frank way like a heterosexual relationship would. I would think "Lan Yu" would stand out for the circumstances surrounding its creation rather than the material of the film itself. Its theme of love, loss and romantic doom is universal enough to appeal to all mainstream audience… if they don't mind the upfront depiction of gay sex.

Eden Law

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