Sep 1, 2014

Review: Lan Yu (2001)

The story of Lan Yu is based off a story that was posted on the internet anonymously. This is because representing homosexuality in a positive light was a big no-no at the time in any form of entertainment and still is it would seem. Add incorporating the Tienanmen Square Massacre and you've got an unpublishable book on your hands. No Chinese publisher would ever want to associate itself with this kind of controversy.

Lucky that the story got the attention of Stanley Kwan and his associates. Kwan is one of the few openly gay Asian directors and he was willing to work on this film without government approval. Somehow Lan Yu got screened at some film festival in Beijing in 2001 and it also got some well deserved exposure elsewhere.

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Genre: drama, romance
Directed by: Stanley Kwan
Produced by: Yongning Zhang, Qin Jian
Written by: Jimmy Ngai
Music by: Yadong Zhang
Running time: 86 minutes
Production company: Kwan's Creation Workshop, Yongning Creation Workshop
Distributed by: Festive Films, Epicentre Films, Strand Releasing, etc.
Country: Hong Kong, China
Language: Mandarin
Budget: N/A
Box office: $3,847,964 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Ye Liu, Jun Hu, Bin Li, Huatong Li, Shuang Li, Fang Lu, Jin Su, Shaohua Zhang, Yongning Zhang



Synopsis

 

It's the late 80's and Lan Yu (Ye Liu) is a student in architecture. However he's having real trouble with money and his situation is a bit grim. He's talked into prostituting himself for the money he needs and ends up meeting Chen Handong (Jun Hu). Handong is a rich and successful businessman who ends up showering Lan Yu in money and gifts to keep him around. Handong is only really looking for sex which Lan Yu agrees to. Deep down he's in love with Handong which will inevitably bring about problems later on.

Review


I'll begin by saying that the performances of both Ye Liu and Jun Hu are very good. Neither actor is gay but they both pull off the act admirably. You buy Lan Yu and Handong's relationship very easily. Their scenes of intimacy don't hint at any kind of awkwardness at all, so full props to them as actors. It's a gentle and timid affair that has some really good character development for both characters. The pacing is well executed as well, fast forwarding through years at a time and quickly re-establishing the situation. 

Lan Yu addresses many of the problems that would arise as a gay man in China. It's clearly something that's taboo but it's not like Handong and Lan Yu are shown sneaking around trying to hide it from everyone else. The pressures that Handong feels as an important man with an image to keep are adequately explored and I also like how the inclusion of Tienanmen Square was handled. It's not heavily featured but it's an important moment in Lan Yu and Handong's relationship.

In terms of how the drama is handled, it alternates between a very muted kind of drama as well as "louder" drama as well. I don't mean loud like excessive screaming and crying, just the right amount really. (Spoilers) I also like the editing of Handong's crying at the climax which begins silent and then can be heard after. It amps up the heartbreak factor tenfold. It's that kind of gently highlighting that I really like about Lan Yu. (End Spoilers)

Lan Yu is clearly one of those underwatched movies that deserve more of an audience. It's not the audience's fault though that distribution has been pretty much nonexistent. Stanley Kwan has put together a really nicely paced romantic drama that just happens to be about gay men. I suppose that if the relationship were between a man and a woman there wouldn't be anything that revolutionary here but with all the controversy surrounding this picture, it's irresistible and totally worth a watch. 

Rating


7/10