Lan Yu

Government censors in China go crazy at all sorts of things, so it's amusing to think of their reaction to Lan Yu, with its taboo subject of gay romance and its brief shots of full frontal male nudity. The genesis behind Lan Yu is so much more interesting than the movie itself, which comes off as a snore. The book on which the movie is based was published anonymously on the Internet beginning in 1996. It was the first published material to examine the lives of homosexuals in China, and become somewhat of an underground sensation. Jimmy Ngai (The Island Tales, Hold You Tight) adapted the material to the big screen, and the story examines the relationship between two men and how it changes over time.

Director Stanley Kwan (The Island Tales, Hold You Tight) seems much more interested in imagery than any sort of coherent narrative. Lan Yu almost unfolds like a series of pictures, constantly jumping forward in time. Lan Yu (Liu Ye, Dream of the Century, Female Officer, Male Private) is a naive architectural student who needs money. Chen Hangdong (Hu Jun, East Palace, West Palace, Zhongtian Feibao) is an older business owner. He sees an opportunity and quickly seduces Lan Yu. The caveat is that Hangdong does not want a commitment, he only wants to have some fun. He believes that if two people know each other too well, they have nothing left to talk about and go their separate ways. Lan Yu consists of the two meeting and expressing their feelings for each other, then something happening to cause them to part.

All these events occur against the backdrop of dramatic economic and social change in China. Lan Yu merely hints at what is going on, usually in conversation between the characters. Events do have a direct effect upon Lan Yu and Hangdong in a few instances, and these serve to propel their relationship quicker towards reunification or break-up, depending on at what point it is currently at. It never adds the depth or context to their relationship that Kwan wants it to. And while Lan Yu may be about an extremely taboo topic amongst the Chinese, the movie never talks about the danger to the main characters because of their sexual orientation.

While many of the scenes are quietly erotic, there is little substance behind any of them. Kwan gives such brief character sketches that it is hard to get to know who either of them really are. Lan Yu in particularly remains a near-mystery. He rarely expresses himself, except for anger at Hangdong's rejection. Because he keeps allowing Hangdong back into his life, although he knows that alienation is again inevitable. The Hangdong character generates little sympathy for the viewer. Because of his ways, it looks like he is using Lan Yu for his own ends, but at the same time he keeps thinking about Lan Yu when he is not there.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 26 minutes, Mandarin with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains nudity, sexual situations, should be an R but would probably get an NC-17.

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