Reviewed by YTSL
“He’s mindfucking you.” This is what
one young man in this 1998 movie tells another that he thinks a third individual
is doing to the second person. At times, I felt that this is what
director and scriptwriter Yonfan (also) was doing to the viewer(s) of that
which takes as its international title the Japanese word that translates
into English as “pretty boy(s)” (From “bi-”, short for “bijin”, and “shonen”,
which refers to young males). How else would one account for his
having stated -- this according to Shelly Kraicer of the “Another Chinese
Cinema Page” website -- that he had made this romance-infused dramatic
offering, one whose main characters are all gay men who have some kind
of personal connection with one another, “for women (presumably heterosexual)
who wanted to watch beautiful young men”?
Similarly, I find myself wondering why it is that
he -- whose full name is Man-Shih Yonfan (but seems to prefer to just be
referred to as Yonfan) -- opted for this very male-centered, largely Cantonese
language production to have a voice-over narration done by a Mandarin speaking
female (Although her name does not appear in the credits, Brigitte Lin
has been identified as having had this part in this Sylvia Chang executive
produced film). Then there is the seemingly over-long, drawn-out,
circuitous and rather teasing route that the viewers of BISHONEN... are
taken before being properly introduced to the character who I think is
at the heart of this ultimately quite moving effort: A straight arrow
looking young man (sensitively portrayed by then newcomer, Daniel Wu) who
initially appears to be one half of a heterosexual couple -- but actually
is gay -- and gets named as Sam without it being revealed until quite a
bit later in the work that he was previously known as Ah Fai.
Something else that I have to admit to feeling
disconcerted by is the fact of BISHONEN... being undeniably generally aesthetically
pleasing in terms of its visuals -- and maybe also its score (though I
found the sentimental movie’s music to verge on being too sappy for my
taste) -- even when quite a bit of what is shown taking place in this work
is rather psychologically disquieting, emotionally messy and even downright
ugly in terms of what gets implied to have been done to certain individuals
whose welfare the offering’s viewers ought to find themselves caring for.
And lest anyone wonder, I’m actually am not referring here to: Pretty
much all of the physically attractive young people -- who include Terence
Yin as the individual who goes by the initials of K.S., and Hsu Chi in
the supporting role of Sam’s friend, Kana -- that are seen in the film
not being heterosexual; and/or three of them -- Jet (who Stephen Fung charmingly
essayed), Ah Ching (who I think was played by Jason Tsang) and Sindy --
being gigolos who are part of what Hong Kongers would call a “duck shop”
named S.M. Bay (operated by a business-minded individual played by Cheung
To some degree, it is tempting to superficially
suppose that BISHONEN... could not help but be a glossy looking work by
way of it being helmed by a director who made his mark as a fashion photographer
prior to entering the world of movie-making (and therefore may be better
at getting a work to look good than ensuring that the presented images
fit the main mood and themes of the film). However, in keeping with
one of the primary points of this thought-provoking production (for which
David Chung is the credited cinematographer and Sherry Kwok is the art
director), I do suspect that there’s more to this than initially meets
Appearances can be deceiving. This adage
is particularly applicable with regards to BISHONEN...’s principal character:
Who, as his mother noted, “wants so badly to be seen as good all the time”.
Unfortunately for Sam/Ah Fai, he -- like other humans -- could not be.
Instead, the young policeman -- who lived with and cooked for the parents
(played by Kenneth Tsang and his real wife, actress Chiao Chiao) he very
obviously loved as well as did not want to let down in any way (be it by
being revealed to be a smoker or homosexual) -- ended up with what was
rather euphemistically described by the movie’s seemingly omniscient narrator
as a “double personality”, and leading a double -- maybe even more -- life
whose different strands ended up coming together in ways that he could
and did not anticipate.
When viewed from this perspective, the story of
Sam/Ah Fai looks to be a sad and cautionary tale about the tragedies that
seem to invariably result from a person’s doing things that cause him to
feel guilt (not least because he knows that it will cause others to have
pain). However, this is not to say that the atmospheric movie is
entirely joy-less and that its chief protagonist’s life was one that was
completely love-less. Far from it, in fact. Another point that
I think is worth emphasizing about BISHONEN... is how sincerely idealistic,
innocently idyllic and rose-tinted-lens romantic much of it did seem.
Finally, and against some interesting odds, I do think that Yon Fan and
co. -- including the lead actors from whom he successfully coaxed out some
truly touching performances -- did manage to get the message across that
the kind of love that some people consider to be just plain wrong is one
that others can endow with much purity and great beauty.
NB - cameos come in the form of James Wong
(a client), Paul Fonoroff (on the street), Joe Junior (the photographer)
and Ng Hong-ning (as a rough customer).
My rating for the film: 7.