Permanent Residence

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 April, 2009, 12:00am

Starring: Sean Li Ka-hoe, Osman Hung Chi-kit, Jackie Chow, Candy Hau Woon-ling

Director: Scud

Category: III (Cantonese)

Egocentric in the extreme, Scud's Permanent Residence is a bold and revelatory, if uneven, semi-autobiographical portrayal of a man's search for creative expression and quest for love. In tracing the life of its protagonist from his birth in the late 1960s until his death some eight decades later, Permanent Residence takes the concept of 'art imitating life' one step further by blurring the line between the two.

The narrative covers a lot of territory, both geographically and temporally. The pre-title sequence in Guangdong is nostalgically shot in black-and-white, not only introducing us to the infant Ivan but also making us aware of his mortality (a fortune-teller predicts he will not live beyond 30) and the pivotal influence of his beloved granny (the indefatigable Candy Hau Woon-ling). The black-and-white turns into desaturated colour as Ivan moves to Hong Kong and has a nerdy 1980s adolescence.

Full colour, both in Herman Yau Lai-to's vivid cinematography and Ivan's life in general, only comes with the 1990s. Now a twentysomething IT success, Ivan (Sean Li Ka-hoe, far right) is an avid gym-goer not averse to exhibiting the results of his hard work. If City Without Baseball broke new ground with its unabashed delight in displaying male flesh, Permanent Residence takes it one step further and minus the earlier work's demureness toward same-sex attraction.

For unlike Scud's baseball players, Ivan knows what he likes, the catalyst of his sexual enlightenment being an encounter with Israeli IT guy Josh Aviv (disconcertingly played by the distinctly non-Israeli Jackie Chow, left). Not that the average Hongkonger is so receptive, as evidenced in one of the film's funnier moments in which a supermarket kiss between Josh and Ivan sets one shopper running in shock.

The film's central relationship, between Ivan and fellow gym member Windson (a breakthrough performance by Osman Hung Chi-kit of pop group EO2), is a complex look at kinship and passion that, while not unrequited, can never attain a level that either party finds satisfactory. In many ways they are the loves of each other's lives, save for one major factor: Windson is straight. The two are as close as lovers can be without actually having sex, and some of the movie's most tender passages deal with Ivan's devotion to Windson's parents.

At nearly two hours long, the picture loses focus as it hops around to such locales as a spa in Japan, a Queensland beach, a Bangkok go-go bar and even Israel's Wailing Wall and Dead Sea. The Israeli scenes, in particular, have a feeling of superfluousness. Similarly, the futuristic passages that close the movie are not entirely successful in elucidating their philosophical underpinnings. Still, Permanent Residence imbues the Hong Kong film world with a welcome variety.

Permanent Residence opens today