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Strand Releasing presents
"We were destined to meet. But it won't be for a lifetime."
DVD ReviewIn any culture, at any time, no matter what your sexual preference, it's clear to all of us just what is the most elusive commodity of all: love. Lan Yu shouldn't be ghettoized as merely a gay Chinese movie, because its characters' quests for contentment and happiness cross all boundaries—the story is told a little haphazardly and sloppily, in fits and starts, and while life can be like that, it makes for only an intermittently rewarding movie-watching experience.
The film's title is the name of one of its lead characters—Liu Ye plays Lan Yu, an engineering student at a Beijing University, all ambition and innocence. He meets Handong (Hu Jun), a successful industrialist, whose being gay is one of the worst-kept secrets in town—he takes on Lan Yu as a personal project of sorts, educating him about the finer things in life, insisting all along that this is just a fling. We and they both know better, though—their long, languorous looks at one another make it clear that these two are falling deeply in love.
Lan Yu is heartbroken to learn that Handong sleeps around; the older man seems to be seeking out ways to foul the nest, but Lan Yu is true to him. To a point: conventionality gets the better of Handong, who wants a family of his own, and he meets and marries a woman, despite the truths of his own heart. The film chronicles the relationship between the two men over nearly a decade, with its successes and failures, its connections and wounds; a lot of it is emotionally recognizable, but unfortunately in filmmaking terms, a good many things come out of nowhere. When we meet Handong, for instance, he seems completely at ease with is sexuality, even under the Communists, and seems to relish playing the role of sugar daddy to Lan Yu; his decision to take the path to suburbia and alleged happiness is as shocking to us as it is to his boyfriend, since the filmmakers haven't prepared the audience for it.
The ending (which I won't give away here) feels even more arbitrary, but the film succeeds at a great many things: it's a touching look at this relationship, and it's a strange little portrait of a certain elite, Westernized stratum of Beijing society, in which its members shoot pool and drink Johnnie Walker, just the sort of things that Communist Party rhetoric must rail against. So the moment-to-moment stuff is generally more successful than the film overall, which feels unduly episodic. Also, early on there's a decided ignorance about American geography: an English-language news report playing on Handong's television informs the audience that Los Angeles is the capital of California. News to me, that's for sure. Gray Davis, call your office.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Imperfections in the print are all too evident, with frequent scratches and discolorations. The transfer to DVD looks fair enough, with a color palette that is reasonably consistent, but a little more care would have gone a long way.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Ambient noise can be overpowering in some scenes, which is a distraction, but less of a problem for those of us reading along with the subtitles, and not following the Chinese dialogue.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring His Secret Life, Borstal Boy, The Cockettes, The Iron Ladies
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Extras Review: In a brief interview (08m:01s) conducted for the Sundance Channel, director Stanley Kwan discusses being weaned on Hong Kong action films, and only later discovering European and Japanese cinema, to which he as a gay man felt more connected. A quartet of trailers are the only other extras.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsLan Yu is more successful as a dual character study than as a carefully plotted tale, but it's a film made with passion and a high level of skill, something you can't say about enough movies.
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