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I went to see "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" with a young Chinese man
said to me, as if I didn't know this, "Of course it has a tragic ending.
It's Chinese!" That awakening, plus seeing the movie in a Chinese filled
theatre, taught me something. I rented "Lan Yu" expecting a Chinese
I didn't get one. There were no intense cultural overtones, just
references. Mao, Tiannimen Square, Russians, yes. The matriarch's New
Year's dinner was the closest thing to Chinese culture. But, of course,
Beijing and Hong Kong are cosmopolitan. The plot even makes fun of Lan
being thrust into the city from the country.
I put this movie in the category of "Parting Glances," "Steam," and "Love, Valor, Compassion," definitely not "Philadelphia." That's a high compliment for me. I've seen boring, "go for the audience impact" Gay movies. This isn't one, thank goodness. It's a love story with the complexity of approach/avoidance conflict, embraced by friends who are straight, even though the story is about Gay love. And it's about one-sided love, growing love, fearing the loss of love, committment anxiety, and all that, the same as in straight relationships. It has acceptance and tolerance and is totally devoid of sneers from the homophobic thrown in to thicken the plot.
The character development is a little sparse, but actually we learn about them quickly. There's no long wind up. Skillful! The character depth is what grows. Lan Yu grows. His lover doesn't, until it's too late.
The direction and photography were subtly superb. I didn't catch on until far into the film how good the photography was and placement of the characters. The acting was excellent -- or was it their direction?
How interesting that the clearly more submissive character is the stronger one.
Did those who hated this movie notice all of that, or are they jaded? I wouldn't like to be at a play or movie with them.
Wonderful movie. I cried. I laughed. I'm still feeling it. Very few movies do that to me.
I expected something tepid and tormented, like "East Palace West Palace" and
instead found a wonderful drama about the China of the 80s and
A successful businessman sees, at a fancy party, a young man brought to the party by another attendee. He and a co-worker decide to pounce: they take him (Lan Yu) out and treat him royally. The young man winds up staying with the businessman, who gives him money, but is ambivalent about whether he wants to see Lan Yu again. He feels that he can have relationships and remain unattached.
Lan Yu shows up periodically over the course of years, and the businessman gives him larger and larger gifts, including a fancy house in the suburbs. But the businessman meets a woman who translates for him in a deal he's making with Russians. He decides to marry the woman. Lan Yu will not put up with it and refuses to see the businessman.
The businessman's shady deals get him into trouble, and he loses almost everything. Then Lan Yu comes back into the picture and . . . (I'll leave it there).
Besides being a wonderful melodrama, this is also a hot gay film. Full frontal and dorsal nudity, some sex. The men are hairless and sexy, but real. Lots of kissing.
And all the time you're wondering: did they actually film this in China? Do they allow this in China? How did they get away with this....It must have been filmed in Hong Kong. Well, according to the Sundance website, this was filmed in China, and based on a short story that appeared only on the Internet.
It's by far my favorite Chinese movie, and if you're interested in gay life in the new China, this is the one to see.
It has an overall feel of an Eric Rohmer film, the portrayal of the reality
of emotion and connection in the stark environment of modern Beijing and
Chinese society is a feat of amazing subtlety.
Perhaps incomprehensible to people in a society long open, the stark contrast between the comfort of rare privilege and emotional squalor and the material squalor of the young student/architect and emotional richness there goes beyond the triteness the another user accuses this material of.
I am fairly jaded westerner moved to emotional resonance, (certainly not the result of the melodramatic ending I could have done without.)
Generally I'm not a big fan of melodrama, and LAN YU is a classic,
Sirk-league piece of melodrama, so I can't say I loved this film. But
it is impressive in a number of ways - the depiction of intimacy, and
of a slowly-developing relationship is very well done, and this film is
very obviously the work of a thoughtful and talented filmmaker. I also
liked the cinematography - very un-flashy, which serves the material
well: a dry, slice-of-life look which stands apart from the dramatics
of the plot, and definitely underscores the normality (or validity) of
gay relationships, perhaps in a culture that is still coming to terms
with such relationships. The dinner scenes - which are beautifully shot
and staged - stand out.
It should be noted that director Stanley Kwan has a handful of other artistically notable films to his credit, with ROUGE and ACTRESS generating acclaim around the globe. Kwan claims Hollywood melodramatist Douglas Sirk and Japanese contemporary dramatist Yasujiro Ozu as major influences, and both of those influences are apparent here - the studied, careful mis-en-scene of Ozu; and a story balanced between social critique and three-hanky melodrama, in the fashion of Sirk. Kwan is also one of a small (but growing) number of out Asian filmmakers, and noting this (and his artistic influences) helps to understand the overall importance of this film.
If some of the most creative and engaging gay film being made today is coming from Asia, Europe and Latin America - which I believe to be true - then this film is definitely among the best of that wave. Worth a look.
I found this particular film very moving. Regardless of the the way the two characters meet for the first time it is about relationship, not sex. (despite Handong, struggling to perceive it the other way around). Nice and subtle, seem bereft of any cheap cinema tricks. I guess that goes back to the Asian culture towards homosexuality and is the reason why I prefer Asian gay-themed movies to European or north American main stream production. I wish there was more of this kind of movies portraying man to man relationship as based on feelings rather than sex. Stanley Kwan joins Ang Lee in leading the way... In my opinion, along 'Farewell My Concubine' the best gay-themed Chinese movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have waded through some pretty sniffy comments on how ordinary this movie is. Admittedly, it is a little like Love Story, with Ali MacGraw, which WAS banal and boring, badly acted and badly filmed (boy meets girl, boy gets girl, girl dies). The setting in Lan Yu, however, with its awesome director, lift it way out of the ordinary. Never mind the snide reviews. These actors are hot!
LAN YU is another indication that films from China are becoming increasingly more poignant, less dependent on spectacle, and certainly more daring in view of the political milieu. Director Stanley Kwan not only has courage to make this poignant film, he also has the gifts to create an atmospheric, gentle, quiet, and luminously photographed love story. He draws understated performances from his actors, never stooping to caricature, always respectful of the inherent delicacy of his subject matter. Lan Yu is a handsome young gay architecture student who becomes involved with Hangdong, a closeted Beijing businessman. The affair they pursue is subtle yet not without passion, the kind of understated passion that rings true rather than playing for sensationalism. The plot twists and turns - Lan Yu is set aside by Hangdong for a "proper marriage" which leads to divorce and to other losses, bringing Hangdong back to seek his real love - Lan Yu. The change in their relationship speaks loudly for a wider acceptance of same sex love. To reveal the ending would be a disservice to the viewer. Part of the joy of this simple story is the sensitivity of Hangdong's colleagues in responding to the his various dilemmas: there is no "bad guy", no prejudice, no castigation - these friends are committed and make homophobia seem merely a foreign, unimportant word. This film is a model of restraint and intelligent, finely crafted story telling. The actors are uniformly excellent and win our hearts. Highly Recommended!
Basically, this is the story about a well-to-do Beijing businessman with
questionable business principles who enjoys the company of young male
students whom he treats as his play thing and pays them for their sexual
Lan Yu a somewhat shy architectural student attending a University in Beijing is enticed into the businessman's home where he is subsequently seduced.
In the ensuing months the relationship deepens and they become lovers meeting at every opportunity. The emotions are subtly portrayed by the two actors. We hang on every word spoken and get caught up in their feelings. "We must never become too close", says the businessman. "It is right and proper for a man to have a wife and children". Such are his thoughts....
Secretive though their relationship may be, it is never sordid. They feel so relaxed in each other's company. The tiny rooms and narrow passageways are almost claustrophobic. Note the device of photographing reflections in mirrors so often throughout the film. An interesting technique which is constantly repeated. In a mirror you see a person lying in bed. Beyond the camera you hear a door closing. You know that some one has left the room, though you do not see it. And note the frequent use of close-ups so important in emotional scenes. A hug, a kiss, a sob, a tear....so meaningful...and each emotion tugs at your heart.
Shakespeare said "Parting is such sweet sorrow". Here we have such sorrow, but then the joy of re-uniting, followed alas! by a new tragedy that parts them once more.
The final scene when the businessman stops his car at the building site and then speeds on ever so quickly with the concrete pillars flashing by is a fitting ending in itself. I think the song detracts from the mood and would be better omitted.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Before my comments about Lan Yu, first some comments on the
First of all, I don't really understand how someone can call the relationship/love affair in this movie "stereotypical". Or put it another way, does it really matter? Two-third of movies produced are either about "straight" relationship, or of stories surrounding it. When we go to see a movie strictly about boy-and-girl falling in love, do we immediately say the relationship is so "stereotypical" just because the movie is about the relationship? Why it seems that a gay movie about a gay relationship HAS to somehow have something more to be non-stereotypical? If everytime we go to see something like, say, "Tricks" we have to say, "ah, so stereotypical", you might as well avoid the lot if it. If you find the gay relationship in this film stereotypical it is probably because they are human too.
Second, why internationally acclaimed directors from Asia have to somehow show more (Asian) characters to "worth the praise"? World cinema is a global scene - if someone in Asia can make as good a movie as his/her French, German, US counterpart while not inventing anything new or introducing any "Eastern" elements, why can't s/he still deserve the same level of international (aka Western) recognition? In other words, why can't Stanley Kwan get the recognition by recycling Western ideas and technique to tell a wonderfully crafted story in a beautifully understated movie?
Back to the movie - it's a great one because Kwan was making something that is very close to his heart. The direction is close to flawless and he (and the writer) has very successfully limited the scope to focus on the two leads and their relationship with all other important outside elements (economic development in China, corruption, etc) and major historical events (June 4, etc) as background. Examples of outstanding scenes include the night of June 4 when Handong (Hu Jun) was driving in his car looking anxiously for Lan Yu (Liu Ye), who has obviously participated in the student protest. It was done tasteful with just the right level of drama and hints to tell you the state of both characters' minds.
Kwan's major talent, IMHO, is on directing actors. No matter what one says about "Center Stage", his milestone, he has successfully transferred Maggie Cheung from a "flower pot" (actress with no brain) to an international acclaimed actress. Hu and Liu also got their big break from Kwan - I know now as I have a chance to watch some of Hu's TV drama series in which he plays the typical and boring macho cop. The sparkle between them in the film is simply brilliant - from the few playful/romantic bedroom scenes to Hu's visit to the hospital to identify the dead body of Liu.
And too bad if you don't like seeing Lau Yu being killed at the end - it's in the book.
Locally, this film played to mixed critical reviews, but I am absolutely enamored by Stanley Kwan's brilliant, understated film style. While LAN YU is a fairly ordinary love story, a rich man falls for a younger, more humble male novice from the country, and what was supposed to be a one night stand turns out to be the subject of this 9 year film exploration, taken from the popular e-novel BEIJING STORY released anonymously on the Internet in 1996, and while one would believe that this story has been told over and over again in nearly every culture, the way that this story is filmed is anything but ordinary. Stanley Kwan is simply a superb director, visually stunning with layers of rich texture, subtle with very dark interiors, extremely detailed with only glimpses of color, a slow measured pace that examines the psychological inner needs of these characters, both of whom are superb in this film, Jun Hu as the older businessman and especially Liu Ye as the younger character of Lan Yu. The obvious comparisons would be Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung in Wong Kar-wei's HAPPY TOGETHER, which has much more razzle dazzle and high energy than this film, or perhaps Leslie Cheung and Fengyi Zhang in Chen Kaige's FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE, which has a much more broad and epic subject matter. Here the film confines itself to two men almost exclusively, and their screen chemistry IS the film, as how they react and what they have to say to one another is remarkably moving in it's brevity as well as it's honesty. I found the last half of Hou Hsiao-hsien's 2001 film MILLENNIUM MAMBO was very much in the style of Stanley Kwan, the energy simply stops and the film crawls into a ghost-like crevasse, a mind-numbing, desolate despair, while LAN YU, also filmed in 2001, adds Hou's ritual of letting his camera hover over a festive table of people eating and catching the power of human interplay in their most ordinary moments. My chief complaint is how the ending misses the mark. Maybe I'm missing something here, but the entire film builds to an emotional intensity that simply dissipates, like letting the air out of a balloon, and I, for one, was disappointed. Again, while a simple story, this film has extraordinary emotional complexity which makes this one of the best films I've seen this year.
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