Film review: Front Cover - Chinese values reconsidered in gay romance
Jake is a New York stylist seeking to escape his Chinese roots, while his customer Qi is proud of being from China; they form an unlikely bond in this endearing comedy with an awkward ending
An openly gay Chinese-American fashion stylist falls in love with an overtly homophobic Beijing actor in this bittersweet New York-set romance. Too thinly sketched to become an important LGBT title, yet probably sensitive enough in its performances and cultural observations to delight its target audience, this second feature by Hong Kong-based writer-director Ray Yeung (2006’s Cut Sleeve Boys) navigates the taboos and stereotypes undermining Chinese gay men with genuine candour.
Raised by modest and conservative Cantonese-speaking parents in New York, aspiring stylist Ryan Fu (played by Jake Choi) is craving both acceptance (he believes the best in his profession are all gay) and a symbolic step up in the ethnic hierarchy (he insists on speaking English and sleeps only with white men). Everything he stands for is tested when Fu is saddled with difficult client Qi Xiaoning (James Chen), a rising Chinese star who has flown in with an entourage to try to crack the American market.
As they bond during styling sessions that are more like romantic dates, the narrative makes often witty, sometimes disquieting comparisons between Fu’s resolve to spurn his heritage and Qi’s great pride in his Chinese roots; even when Qi reveals that his father was part of the army involved in the June Fourth Incident, he says it without any conflicted emotions. On occasions, it looks as if Yeung is trying too hard to shoehorn the confusing experience of being Chinese into the young men’s contrasting backgrounds.
The film’s most poignant passages see Qi join Fu on a rare family outing, after Fu’s parents prematurely assume that their son has at last fulfilled their wish of dating, if not a Chinese woman, then at least a Chinese man. The melodramatic last act, turning Chinese tabloids’ homophobic bent into a convenient plot device, is a minor let-down. Still, for all its awkwardness in bridging the personal and the cultural, Front Cover does deliver as a nice little romantic comedy with a pair of endearing leads.
Front Cover opens on October 25
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