Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Front Cover: The Mainland Actor and the NY Stylist
can give China limited credit for being more LGBT friendly than Russia and the
entire Middle East (besides Israel), but those are easy benchmarks to exceed.
The Communist Party still censors a great deal of LGBT content, but they cast a
ridiculously wide net. Social pressure and a lack of anti-discrimination
protections are usually the more pressing reasons most gay and lesbian Chinese
citizens often prefer to stay in the closet. That is especially true of an actor
knocking on the door of superstardom. However, he finds New Yorkers roll
differently in director-screenwriter Ray Yeung’s Front Cover (trailer
which opens this Friday in New York.
Fu is an up-and-coming fashion stylist and he happens to be gay, which maybe
isn’t so shocking. Nevertheless, his latest client is completely taken aback by
his unapologetic openness. Qi Xiao Ning is a Mainland movie star in desperate
need of a makeover if he hopes to charm the American media. Qi insisted on a
Chinese fashion advisor, so Fu gets stuck with the gig. It does not start
smoothly, but eventually they develop some kind of rapport. Then they hook up.
Fu always preferred white guys up to now, but he starts to fall for his uptight
client. Unfortunately, he simply cannot relate to the pressures keeping Qi in
the closet. Like his reasonably accepting parents, Fu lets himself get his
hopes up, setting himself up for a sucker punch from reality.
now, the general narrative shape of Front
Cover feels pretty familiar, but the cast is charismatic and the implied
commentary on contemporary PRC homophobia is rather timely. (In contrast, the
ROC on Taiwan is considered one of the more progressive Asian nations when it
comes to LGBT rights.) Yeung also shows shrewd restraint, never overplaying his
hand or stretching credulity. Instead, the film is rather appealingly
his credit, Jake Choi deftly walks a fine line between flamboyance and shtick.
As Fu, he never descends into overt stereotype, so he remains good company
throughout the picture. James Chen also lends welcome subtlety and dimension to
the arrogant doth-protest-too-much Qi. However, national treasure Elizabeth
Sung (The Joy Luck Club and a few
thousand other films and television episodes) really gives Front Cover heart and soul as Fu’s mother Yen.
All things considered, Yeung probably lets Qi
and the sort of chauvinistic Mainlanders he represents off easy. Still, he
manages to maintain a contradictory mood of buoyant melancholy throughout. It
is a nice film, but far from an absolute viewing necessity. Earning a relaxed, laidback
recommendation, Front Cover opens
this Friday (8/5) in New York, at the Village East.
Labels: Elizabeth Sung, Ray Yeung