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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Lan Yu  


Lan Yu

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Director: Stanley Kwan
Writing Credits: Jimmy Ngai
Starring: Liu Ye, Jun Hu
Genre: Drama
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin
Year released: 2001
Runtime: 86 min
Rating: * * * * (out of four stars)

Warning: spoilers below.

Lan Yu is based on a popular Internet novel Beijing Comrade, and was filmed clandestinely in Beijing whilst Stanley Kwan was filming another show. Focusing on the relationship between two men, Lan Yu can be considered a groundbreaking Chinese film. As far as I know, there has been no commercial Chinese film that dealt with issues of homosexuality as openly as Lan Yu does, and this is both a good and bad thing for the film. Expectations seem to have been raised to virtually impossible heights, and many people felt disappointed by the movie. However, personally, Lan Yu features excellent acting from the two male leads, and despite the rather pedestrian (and at times, melodramatic) storyline, I left the cinema feeling impressed by Stanley Kwan’s 14th film.

Chen Handong (Jun Hu) is the eldest son of a senior bureaucrat, and he heads a fast-growing company that’s bringing in plenty of dough. Although Handong seems every bit the normal businessman, he does have a secret – he is a homosexual, and occasionally has flings with boys that come by his way. Lan Yu (Liu Ye) is one such boy – he’s just come from the countryside to Beijing to study architecture. Initially, Handong treats Lan Yu just like any other fling he has, but he soon discovers that his feelings for the wide-eyed boy is deeper than he thought.

The film traces the on-again, off-again relationship between Handong and Lan Yu over a number of years, not only mapping out Lan Yu’s gradual change from a wide-eyed boy to a man with a harder edge, but also the gradual fall from grace of Handong’s company. It takes a look at how a homosexual relationship is actually very similar to a "normal," heterosexual one, with its little lovers’ tiffs and tender moments. However, it seems that Lan Yu and Handong are star-crossed lovers, and just when the couple is ready to commit to each other, tragedy strikes.

The story for Lan Yu is pretty standard romance story fare, and doesn’t bring anything new to the genre. There is also a heavy dose of melodrama, especially near the end of the film. Some viewers have looked upon the tragic ending as a condemnation on homosexual relationships, but one must remember that the source material already has the same ending, so all Stanley Kwan is doing is staying true to the novel. However, it’s the impeccable performances by the two male leads that elevate the film above mediocrity. Both Jun Hu and Liu Ye play their roles very well, and share a very strong onscreen chemistry – it feels almost as though they are a couple in real life, which is something that previous homosexual-themed movies have failed to capture. In fact, there were times in the show where it felt that the relationship between Lan Yu and Handong is no different from a more normal one, which even Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together was not able to achieve.

Although not as flashy as some of Kwan’s previous works, Lan Yu is technically solid – especially when one considers the fact that the filming was done in secret. The film style almost approaches that of a documentary, and there is nothing visually spectacular about Lan Yu. However, several scenes are still very memorable, including one near the end of the film, where Handong is in the morgue, and a loud buzz fills the soundtrack – almost as though we have been placed inside Handong’s head, and are sharing Handong’s overwhelming grief. Although there are scenes of full frontal nudity, these really aren’t the focus of the show, and it seems that undue attention has been given to these scenes. Although it may not seem like a big deal when compared to world cinema, Lan Yu is an excellent Chinese movie that really does deserve to be seen by more people. Unfortunately, the film has been banned from general release in Singapore due to its controversial content, and thus it can only be obtained via rather illegitimate methods.

Final Word: One of the best Chinese movies this year, which unfortunately would only be seen by a handful of audiences.