Review: Lan Yu (2001)

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Lan Yu (2001) tells the story of a poor university student, Lan Yu, who agrees to have a one night stand improve his financial situation. However, he falls for the wealthy businessman Chen Handong instead of the man he is supposed to service. The story is a struggle between Lan Yu’s desire for a loving relationship and Chen Handong’s wish for a purely sexual relationship, between Lan Yu’s firm devotion and Handong’s tendency to sleep with other men and women.

At first, when I began watching this film I felt that the exposition at the bar was messy, partly because my Chinese really wasn’t up to scratch and the volume wasn’t loud enough. Secondly, I disliked how the film jumped quickly from one cut scene to another- I wanted the characters’ relationships to be explored in more detail. However, as I continued watching the film I realised that the quick jumping between scenes skillfully captured the fleeting nature of Lan Yu and HanDong’s relationship, as they come apart and together again and again. I expected the relationship to be developed at the start, but instead it is developed by the leaping between scenes and years, and in Lan Yu this way of development had won my approval by the end.

The film doesn’t have the best cinematography ever, but the slightly off colours and angles, the old architecture, successfully re-create the atmosphere of a past China with beautiful nostalgia. I liked the actors, and I especially thought Lan Yu’s actor did well to capture his initial naivety and sweetness. Similarly, the film overall manage to capture the various emotions of the characters and different tones- realistic anger, sweet jokes, loving gestures and tragedy.

Overall, I would recommend this film. I mean I was crying by the end. Or was that because of my shit mental health?

Spoilers Alert- Discussion Time- Drag Your Cursor Over The White Text

I wish there could have been more explicit gay sex.

It’s not cool to kill off gay characters. However there are circumstances where a death would make more sense and be more justifiable than others (e.g.: in a war where everyone is dying, if the character already had suicidal tendencies). And this is not one of them. The worst sort of “bury your gays” scenario is when a gay individual or couple is finally shown being happy after overcoming tragic struggles, and then suddenly dies in an accident. This ending sends the message that gays just aren’t allowed to be happy, or even alive. This film definitely could have deviated from the book in terms of the ending. The film could keep its tragic tone and sad opening lines even if the ending was altered. Lan Yu didn’t have to die. He could have gone into a coma, and the ending could have been one of ambiguity, uncertainty, encompassing both hope and despair, HanDong not knowing if he will get better, but promising to treat him well if he does and desperately hoping he lives.


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