Front Cover


A handsome, stylish man.

A handsome, stylish man.

(2015) Drama (Strand) Jake Choi, James Chen, Jennifer Neala Page, Elizabeth Sung, Sonia Villani, Ming Lee, Li Jun Li, Rachel Lu, Wayne Chang, Kristen Hung, Scott Chan, Brian Knoebel, Ben Baur, Shenell Edmonds, Benjamin Thys, Tom Ligon, Fenton Li, Julia Sun, Josh Folan, Peter Benson, Hallie Cooper-Novack, Chris Kies, Morgan Wolk, Jack Ferver, John Cramer, Susan O’Connor. Directed by Ray Yeung

 

Culture can be a blessing and a millstone. Not all of us want to be defined by our ethnicity. That also goes for our sexuality, although that is becoming less of a stigma these days. The LGBTQ community has made some big strides in this country over the past few years but sometimes we forget that it isn’t the same situation everywhere.

Ryan (Choi) is a gay Asian man who works as a stylist in the fashion industry in Manhattan. He’s in demand and very good at what he does, but he is tired of being stereotyped for his sexuality and his culture. He wants a certain magazine cover but instead he’s assigned by his overbearing boss (Villani) to work with an emerging Chinese star named Ning (Chen) who is breaking out in the United States and who had specifically requested a Chinese stylist for his important photo shoot he’s getting ready for.

It is not a match made in heaven. Ning is all about his culture while Ryan is trying to distance himself from his Chinese heritage and embrace his American side. For Ning’s part, he is shocked at Ryan’s open homosexuality. It’s simply not an acceptable part of the culture in modern China. The relationship is rocky and nearly gets Ryan fired but eventually the two begin to find some common ground, particularly when Ryan’s parents get involved. And as the two begin to become friendly, an attraction develops as Ning reveals that he is in the closet. Can two people from two disparate cultures make it work?

This is a movie that has admirable ambitions. Not only does it examine a little-discussed subject in film – being gay and Asian – but from two different angles. Bringing the cultural differences into the mix adds a little bit of spice to the lo mein. One of the big positives here is that Yeung has his feet in both communities and brings his own experiences and perspective to the wok. That lends an air of authenticity to the film that money just can’t buy and is a perfect illustration of what is best about indie films.

The movie rests largely on the shoulders of Choi and Chen and the two work really well together. Their initial antagonism leading to romantic feelings feels a bit Hollywood-esque but the two manage to overcome the clichéd nature of the situation and make the relationship feel real. There’s also some great scenes with Ryan’s parents and grandmother.

In a sense although the romance is at the center of the film, it is really Ryan’s story; it measures his growth and revolves around his perspective. We see the events through his eyes, feel his frustrations and his passions. Ryan is so dedicated to assimilating into American culture that he refuses to have romances with Asian men, only Caucasians. It is this cultural denial – not uncommon among second generation immigrants – that I think is the most fascinating part of the story.

I would have liked the romantic part to have been a little more organic but even though it kind of follows a rom-com formula, this is far from typical. And yes, there are comedic elements here, particularly with cultural fish-out-of-water things but I wouldn’t necessarily characterize this as a comedy or even a dramedy. It tackles some serious issues and gives us insights that maybe we wouldn’t come up with on our own, and isn’t that really the best thing a movie can do for us?

REASONS TO GO: Cultural and sexual attitudes are taken on honestly. There’s legitimate chemistry between the leads.
REASONS TO STAY: The romance aspect seems a little cliché.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are complex; there is also brief mild profanity and some conversation that is a little suggestive.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leung also runs the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/5/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brokeback Mountain
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Tenth Man

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Pick of the Litter – August 2016


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad

(Warner Brothers) Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney. The DC Cinematic Universe got off to a rocky start with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice even though the movie did well at the box office. The hope is that this movie will get the franchise moving in the right direction after fan and critic dissatisfaction with the bloated DoJ entry. With director David Ayer at the helm, this film brings together a group of super-criminals tasked to take on an impossible mission that either they succeed or die…literally. With a terrific cast, an appearance by Batman himself and a couple of trailers that serve notice this is going to be different than every other superhero film we’ve ever seen, hope springs eternal even for the hard-to-please fanboy contingent. August 5

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Front Cover

Front Cover

(Strand) Jake Choi, James Chen, Jennifer Neala Page, Elizabeth Sung. An up-and-coming Chinese actor comes to the United States to promote his film with a photo shoot; assigned to him is a gay American fashion stylist who has turned his back on his own Asian heritage. The two men who couldn’t be further apart in temperament and cultural appreciation start out detesting one another. However, in the grand tradition of American romance films, they begin falling for each other which could mean the end of the acting career if word gets out. August 5

My King

 My King (Mon Roi)

(Film Movement) Vincent Cassel, Emmanuelle Bercot, Louis Garrel, Isild Le Besco. A woman is admitted to a rehab facility after a terrifying skiing accident. Addicted to pain killers, completely dependent on the medical staff, she begins to reminisce about her tumultuous relationship with a mercurial restaurateur. She considers how good it all was to begin with and how it inexorably turned bad over the years until she wondered how she got into that situation to begin with. Bercot won the Jury Best Actress award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for her performance here. August 12


Imperium
Imperium

(Grindstone) Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Burn Gorman, Tracy Letts. A young FBI behavioral analyst with no field experience is thrust into the role of an undercover informant in the very dangerous world of white supremacist terrorists. The young agent must find a way to compromise his closely held beliefs while maintaining the identity that may help put away some dangerous men and save lives. This is inspired by an actual incident which means that what really happened is vastly different than what appears here, but if this is as good a thriller as it looks to be, who cares?. August 19

Ixcanul

Ixcanul

(Kino Lorber) Maria Mercedes Coroy, Maria Telón, Manuel Antún, Justo Lorenzo. For the Kaqchikel tribe living on the slopes of an active volcano in Guatemala, life continues on much the way as it has for a thousand years. For Maria, a daughter of two tribesmen, her life is about to change when a marriage is arranged for her by her parents. When her suitor must spend several months working in the city, she finds herself in a world she can’t understand. August 19

Morris from America

Morris from America

(A24) Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Markees Christmas. A young wanna-be rapper has his world turned inside out when his father moves him to Germany. Young Morris is none too happy about the way things are turning out until he meets a young German girl who encourages him to find his voice as a rapper and perform in public. This was one of the most acclaimed movies to come out of Sundance and also played the Florida Film Festival this year. August 19

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove

(Music Box) Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Jerker Fahlström, Sofie Gallerspång. Deposed as the president of his condominium society, 59-year-old Swedish widower Ove is out to end it all, in the meantime ruling over the condo complex with an iron fist. A chance meeting with a new neighbor leads to something different…maybe even a reason to live. Director Hannes Holm, who has been at the helm for several of Sweden’s most side-splitting comedies, also wrote this based on a bestselling novel. August 26

In Order of Disappearance

In Order of Disappearance

(Magnet) Stellan Skarsgård, Bruno Ganz, Jakob Oftebro, Brigitte Hjort Sørensen. Scandinavia has recently turned out some really fine movies and this Norwegian black comedy is the latest in a long line of cinematic excellence. Skarsgård stars as a small town snowplow driver grieving the death of his son and in the process, getting caught in the middle of a drug war between local drug dealers and Serbian gangsters looking to take over the territory. It’s a little bit Coen Brothers in tone, which is all I needed to hear. August 26