Cut Sleeve Boys

2005, Movie, R, 86 mins


There's nothing particularly original about art-director-turned-filmmaker Ray Yeung's good-natured look at a pair of aging gay men in London, other than the fact that these men happen to be of Chinese descent. Beyond that, it's pretty much gay business as usual.

One seemingly ordinary afternoon, Gavin Chan (Mark Hampton) closes up his computer store, slips into a red glitter-thread top and leopard-print car coat, and hits Piccadilly Circus' WCs like a lonely sailor on shore leave. Within minutes of hooking up with a trick, Gavin's dead from a popper-induced heart attack. Gavin's funeral is a reunion of sorts for his gay college friends, whom Gavin hadn't seen much of since they all performed in drag in the Miss Pacific Rim contest back in 1984. During the service Melvin Shu (Steven Lim), a promiscuous fashion plate who works in human resources at Harvey Nicks, and demur, soft-voiced swish Ash (Chowee Leow) are shocked to discover that their old friend had been leading a double life: Gavin was engaged to be married to a woman (Michelle Lee). It seems Gavin never found the courage to come out to his traditional family and was ready to live a lie in the name of satisfying his parents' expectations. Soon after, Mel's circuit-party lifestyle is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Todd (Gareth Rhys Davies), a stranger Mel once cruised who's boldly decided to take Mel up on his casual offer of a place to stay if Todd ever found the nerve to leave his parents' Cardiff home. Mel grudgingly helps him find a job and a whole new look, then coldly suggests Todd find his own place; a relationship is the last thing this party boy wants, despite his obvious attraction to Todd. Ash, meanwhile, is looking for a long-term relationship but worries that there are no more butch men in the London gay scene — never mind that Ash lolls about in ruby-colored kimonos listening to old Chinese love songs on his Victrola. He thinks his search has ended the night large transsexual Diane (John Ebb-on-Knee Campbell) shows up on Ash's doorstep with her rugged lover, Ross (Neil Collie). Diane introduces herself as the cameraperson at the Miss Pacific Rim contest, and wants to return the gown she stole from Ash all those years ago. When Ross compliments the fine figure Ash cuts in the red sequins, Ash hits upon a whole new strategy to find a manly new boyfriend: He'll become a tranny.

"Cut sleeve," a translation of the Chinese word for "gay," derives from a Han dynasty poem about a Chinese emperor who, rather than wake his favorite concubine, cuts the sleeve on which the boy had fallen asleep from the rest of the emperor's garment. It's a good title for a film about men who, while on the far side of 40, still haven't found a stable place between traditional Chinese culture and modern gay London life. And if these cliched depictions are at all accurate, they've got quite a bit of catching up to do. Mel's story is an old one: Obsessed with his looks, he relies on hair dye and Botox to keep the years at bay, and uses that tired old argument about how gay men should reject the hetero model of monogamy to ward off any kind of commitment. While deeply confused in its portrayal of transgendered life, Ash's storyline is marginally more interesting: He finds himself trapped in an illusion of his own making, and is forced to reenact the old cut-sleeve scenario for very different reasons. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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