JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Innocent (Director: Simon Chung) - March 31, 2007


4 4
80 min.

Reviewed for the 2006 Inside Out Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival
Taking refuge in false hope

Being “almost seventeen” is a trying time in any young life. Being queer, fraudulently uprooted (the things our parents never tell us …) from Hong Kong to Toronto then coming to grips with family breakup and unrequited love seems too much to bear or bare. Yet director/writer Simon Chung manages to cobble together this coming-of-age tale in a fashion that will resonate with nearly anyone on some level (the unwanted, but not entirely avoided, kiss slams an emotional door and consequently ignites revenge rumours) as the dreams for the New World are overshadowed and quashed by the inescapable realities of the Old.

The film belongs to Eric (Timothy Lee). His sojourn begins prophetically as he wears his boyfriend’s (Po Chan) helmet playing video games the night before the whole family embarks for a “vacation” to Canada. But once it’s revealed that the move is to be permanent, Eric’s world collapses into the literal and metaphoric hectare of swaying wheat, which, at various times, comforts, consoles and covers the lonely teen, often accompanied by a solo piano (from composer Kevin Poon) that aurally reinforces his golden field of despair.

Indeed, the visual storytelling is often more compelling than the narrative. Thanks to the skill of cinematographer Vinit Borrison, the locations shift effortlessly. The discreet, but frank moments of sexual activity speak volumes, wordlessly: Eric’s assertion that he’s a top to Larry, his “Daddy” (convincingly rendered by Larry Peloso); his real father’s (Wing Wong Wilson Kam) blow-job-while-jogging from the neighbourhood slut (Hein Tran); Eric’s unquenchable longing for a thieving refugee (David Song Wei Liu, whose torso fills the screen with pleasure)—all of these scenes support the dictum: more show, less tell.

Not everything works. As cousin Chris, Justin Penaloza’s interaction with the smitten newcomer is wooden. Sister Doris (Stephanie Chang) is all pout and little range as her life cycle begins in more ways than one. Chung’s script is not devoid of cliché’s and stereotypes: the gay bashing seems forced, slipping across the border to New York is too easy by half and the sudden reappearance of Larry’s ex (Wayne Sujo, clearly relishing his brief contribution), just when Eric is ready to seek more than “fuck-buddy” support from his older admirer, rings false and contrived.

Fortunately, Lee engages from the git go, capturing our interest and sympathy as, time after time, his yearning to reach out and totally touch someone is dashed with every attempt. The camera savours the range of his moods; his speech in any language has a charming rhythm and tone that assures us that he won’t remain alone and unloved for long. JWR

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