HONG KONG — If there was a hallmark of queer cinema in Asia, it would be its never-ending and tired focus on the angst involved in simply being gay. One more gay high school student with a crush on his straight best friend, and buckets of requisite I-wish-I-wasn’t-gay agony will be one too many.
Hong Kong indie filmmaker Simon Chung (“Innocent”) steers clear of that ditch and turns in his most assured film to date with “End of Love,” a simple drama about a young man trying to find his own footing vis-a-vis personal morality and the capacity for emotional connection. Chung’s handling of Asian homosexuality may be a little too mature and blunt for general release in Asia, but broad spectrum and niche (gay, Asian) festivals are sure to be drawn to the film.
Ming (Lee Chi-kin) is an aimless 22-year-old when he enters into his first serious relationship with Yan (Alex Wong). After he and his mother argue about him being gay, she dies and he’s suddenly independent and forced to find his own way. Then conflict starts to seep into the dynamic between he and Yan; Ming falls in with the wrong drug-positive crowd, starts turning tricks and eventually winds up in a Christian rehab. There he meets Keung (Guthrie Yip), and though he may not be as open to conversion as Keung, his time in rehab brings him personal clarity.
That Ming’s problems don’t stem from his homosexuality is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is more comfortable using gay characters in melodramatic tragedies — almost as cautionary tales. Ming’s issues are not with being gay, but with intimacy and trust. But Chung doesn’t make any attempt to sugarcoat some of the less glamorous aspects of gay life in Hong Kong. He captures the fleeting, surreptitious nature of some gay interactions with a nonjudgmental camera that makes Ming’s epiphanies stark by contrast.
Lee turns in a naturalistic performance as a man coming to understand himself that is grounded in reality (Chung claims the character was based on a friend of his), and it proves to be the foundation that keeps the sporadically predictable story engaging.
Production company: Heart Prods.
Cast: Lee Chi-kin, Alex Wong, Guthrie Yip, Clifton Kwan, Joman Chiang
Director/screenwriter: Simon Chung
Producer: Vincent Chui
Director of photography: Kent Wong
Art director: Chan Ching-man, Samantha Lam
Music: Hau Kwong-mo
Editor: Risky Liu
No rating, 97 minutes