Two older working-class men, both secretly gay, meet by chance and a hidden relationship develops in “Suk Suk,” the poignant third feature from writer-director Ray Yeung. Inspired by a sociology professor’s oral history of older gay men in Hong Kong, the drama incorporates documentary-like elements about end-of-life issues for gay elders. Mainly, however, it asks if it is possible for men who have been raised with strict traditional values and led hetero-normative lives with wives and children to put that aside and find happiness and fulfillment with a man. Strong performances by veterans Tai Bo and Ben Yuen make the protagonists’ struggle concrete and affecting.
Seventy-year-old Pak (Bo) still drives his cab, less for financial gain than because he wants a space that he controls and a means to cruise the city’s male pick-up spots in search of anonymous sex. He’s been married to Ching (Au Ga Man Patra) for 40 years, and they have a grown son and daughter as well as a lively grandchild whom he fetches from school. Although he’s very much the loving patriarch when his progeny stops by for dinner, he tends to tune out his wife when it is just the two of them alone, preferring to sit in another room with the newspapers while she cooks, cleans and irons.
The slightly younger Hoi (Yuen) is retired. He’s a divorcé who raised his son Wan (Lo Chun Yip) on his own, and now shares his apartment with the constantly critical Wan, Wan’s wife and their young daughter. Although Hoi is involved with some “gay and gray” groups, he hides it from his family since Wan is a strict Christian. Sadly, he doesn’t even dare to keep mementos from his past relationships at home.
Since they lack a private space to be together, Hoi takes Pak to gay bathhouses frequented by mature men. Yeung depicts their growing intimacy in tender scenes. Hoi even invites Pak to his home on a weekend when his family is away and cooks him a delicious meal. Pak reciprocates by inviting him to the wedding banquet of his daughter. As Hoi observes the social dynamics in Pak’s extended family, so different from his own, you can see in his eyes the mental acknowledgement that dating a married man is asking for trouble.
Helmer Yeung contrasts the lives of these closeted men with families with those of oldsters who are out and alone. Some are joining a campaign to establish a gay nursing home so that they can spend their twilight years with people that understand them rather than those who would discriminate against them.
Yeung’s sympathetic and non-judgmental screenplay is full of smartly observed, naturalistic moments which detail the family lives of his two protagonists and their feelings of obligation to those they brought into the world. At a great cost to his own mobility, Pak decides to entrust his beloved cab to his new son-in-law so that he will have a means to support his now-pregnant daughter. And while Hoi would rather spend his time escorting his elderly friends to the doctor, he lets Wan pressure him into selling lottery tickets on behalf of his daughter’s school.
The widescreen production package is solid and the camera-work never prurient. Some might find the musical numbers maudlin, but they are par for the course in Hong Kong films, with lyrics that reflect on the drama.
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'Suk Suk': Film Review
Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival, Feb. 25, 2020. (Also in Busan Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.
Production:(Hong Kong) A New Voice Film Prods. Ltd. production. (Int’l sales: Films Boutique, Berlin.) Producers: Michael J. Werner, Teresa Kwong, Sandy Wai Shan Yip, Chowee Leow. Executive producers: Ray Yeung, Stan Guingon.
Crew:Director, writer: Ray Yeung. Camera, Ming Kai Leung. Editor: Nose Chan. Music: Veronica Lee.
With:Tai Bo, Ben Yuen, Au Ga Man Patra, Lo Chun Yip, Lam Yiu Sin. (Cantonese dialogue)
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