Last updated on 31 March 2013
Wu yan (original tile)
Homosexuality remains a largely taboo topic in mainland China, but that hasn’t stopped filmmaker Simon Chung from setting another gay-themed movie there. Speechless, now available on DVDfrom Breaking Glass Pictures, follows Innocent and End of Love as the writer-director’s latest, most provocative look yet at Asian men who love other men.
The film opens with the discovery of a naked man from the West (French actor Matthieu Vital) along the banks of a Chinese river. Taken into custody by the local police, the stranger seems either unwilling or unable to speak. He is transferred to a hospital, where a cute, kindly orderly, Jiang (Gao Qilon), takes an interest in him. When Jiang learns the new patient is to be committed to a psychiatric asylum, he decides to spirit him away to his uncle’s remote home in the country.
Although the stranger remains speechless (hence the film’s title), the two men bond further and even sleep together in a non-sexual way. Jiang gradually begins to discover clues to his new friend’s past. This leads to the recounting of a secondary love story between Luke — which is eventually revealed to be the patient’s name — and a fellow university student named Han (the very attractive Jiang Jian). Unfortunately, Han has a girlfriend, Ning (Yu Yung Yung), who proves to be dangerously jealous.
Filmed in Mandarin with English subtitles, Speechless provides an intriguing exploration of modern Chinese culture’s acceptance (or lack thereof) of homosexuality and of East-West relations in general. While there is a minimal amount of sex in the film, what is depicted is about as graphic as a Chinese filmmaker dare show lest they risk the censors’ wrath. And whereas the romance between Han and the then-still speaking Luke is engrossing, it is the more subtle growth in love and understanding between silent Luke and Jiang that has stayed with me. Chung also gets strong yet sensitive performances from his young cast members. See Speechless, and join me in continuing to keep an eye on its bold, talented director.