Those familiar with Scud’s work (cross-references below), won’t be surprised to find what might now be called his signature ingredients: copious amounts of male nudity—almost all in divine shape, sex scenes that have complete endings, a bounty of masks adding yet another layer of mystery to their wearers, crucifixion sets that are usually “lit up” with a heady dose of bondage—wanted or not—and a sound design that revels in absolute silence, classical twists and turns along with a few helpings of pop or rock depending on the situation’s requirements.
With Adonis, Scud won’t disappoint his admirers but also adds two other elements that take this production into—at times literally—a whole other world. This time around, the notions of fate, karma and reincarnation take a front seat in the narrative arc. To complement the idea of the future being inevitable, family life is artfully instilled in real time alongside several flashbacks to drive the filmmaker’s points home with much more show than tell.
Not surprisingly, the lead role of Beijing opera performer Yang Ke is most convincingly taken up by Utopians star, Adonis He. This time sporting an intriguing guitar tattoo just beside an alluring hip bone, the plot centres around the young man’s betrayal by art (owed six months’ wages), greedy photographers who literally leave the young man without a stitch and an initiation into the gay sex trade world that has to be seen—for some endured—to be believed. He shies away from nothing, offering a range of motion and emotion which seamlessly allow the other characters a complete orbit around his character’s growth.
With his father long dead, it is the women in Ke’s life that fulfill the familial angles. Mother (Nora Miao, quietly stoic), holds that her late husband lives again in her only son. Sister Yin—the family confessor whose gift of seeing the future, in life or in death—has a worthy advocate in the looks, laughs and wisdom that speak volumes thanks to Susan Shaw’s compelling performance.
A pair of agents try to guide the body-for-hire newcomer as he morphs from balletic leaps, to spreading his legs equally far, but for a far different end. Slime bucket Vendetta—Eric East readily does his part, before getting his comeuppance in one of the best revenge shots ever: dangling off a ledge wearing only a scowl on his face—is yet another man not to be trusted. Still, he does manage to live up to his name later on. Rescuing an equally naked Ke after being played for a fool by the unscrupulous photogs, real agent Wang Qiang takes the shivering beauty under his wing and, working together, all debts are cleared—if at considerable cost to He’s dignity and likelihood of never “finding the painless world.”
Nathan Wong’s cinematography is a joy to behold, featuring spectacular wide and up-shots in a barely (again literally) inhabited bamboo forest, a gay bar with copious amounts of art on the side and a brief, if thoughtful, tour through heaven and hell.
The original score by Kawayama uses piano and strings to great advantage—yet another much-welcome devotee of less is so often more. In a couple of spots, Scud shamelessly promotes Utopians (here a 30-minute cut that suits the detail of He’s birthday to a T as does the “elf” count) along with a song from Amanda Lee that he just happened to pen the lyrics for. No worries; who better than ourselves to promote ourselves?
As the film winds down, the premise of how much control any of us has over our lives heats up to a boiling point that will provide much food for thought and—for those quick enough to see it—how getting a tattoo may have unimaginable consequences as a means to self-identity. JWR