'I Miss You When I See You': Film Review | Filmart 2018
Hong Kong LGBT filmmaker Simon Chung returns from a six-year hiatus with his most assured film to date.
Depression is rarely a subject tackled with any level of sensitivity in films, and it’s only been in the last decade or so that homosexuality has really gotten any respectful screen portrayals, which makes Hong Kong filmmaker Simon Chung’s latest, I Miss You When I See You, something of a rare bird for its combination of the two. Best know for his 2005 teen coming-out/culture-clash drama Innocent, Chung treats this dense subject matter and the intersection of two topics that can directly impact each other with as much gravity as expected, however to hit-and-miss effect. But even when the film falters (a subplot involving a parent is a distraction; teen years are aggressively halcyon), it remains a brave and honest look at elements of Hong Kong life most Hongkongers would rather pretend didn’t exist.
Long a fixture on Hong Kong’s independent filmmaking scene and one of the city’s few out LGBT directors, Chung has delivered arguably his most assured film to date, helped along by a refreshing change of pace by television star Bryant Mak and evocative photography by Bowen Chung. Moderate art house success should be a given at home in Hong Kong, and the challenging material should earn I Miss You When I See You a healthy life on the festival circuit, both in Asia and overseas.
After returning from Australia where he’s been struggling with depression, Kevin (Jun Li) reconnects with an old friend, Jamie (Mak). As teens, the two were inseparable buddies, but just before Kevin’s mother relocates the family, the pair gives in to their burgeoning romantic feelings. Some low-key making out on the beach is broken up by police, after which Jamie decides to play it safe. He avoids Kevin and their connection is severed. A decade later, Jamie finds Kevin in a group home, they return to Hong Kong together, and both are forced to reevaluate their lives — professionally and personally.
In I Miss You, Chung likens being gay and being depressed as similar states of isolation; both often treated as phases someone can snap out of. That alone would be enough to chew on for any filmmaker, but Chung isn’t content to stop there, fleshing out Kevin and Jamie in relation to the people around them, chief among them Jamie’s increasingly suspicious girlfriend Elaine (Candy Cheung) and a young troublemaker Kevin strikes up an odd friendship with. Most surprising, perhaps, is Chung’s resistance to creating characters that are permanently morose or a world that’s unrelentingly bleak. Kevin has trouble readjusting to Hong Kong’s unique pace and social mores, and Jamie has trouble reconciling his lingering feelings for Kevin, but Chung dangles a bit of accepting light at the end of their tunnels, whether it’s together or separately.
Tech specs are acceptable, and co-star Li turns in a suitably introverted, cautious performance as the fragile Kevin, who’s actually stronger than the “adjusted” Jamie. The film’s greatest strengths, however, are the authentic, intimate moments and grace notes that convey a sense of place: an awkward, judge-y school reunion and the omnipresent climate of bowing to social expectation rather than embracing private desire. It's in these moments that Chung effortlessly creates the kind of context that goes a long way to understanding and empathizing with both men at the center of the story.
Production company: Heart Productions
Cast: Bryant Mak, Jun Li, Candy Cheung, Ronny Yuen, Kevin Ip, Brenda Chan, Tom Lo, Wayne Koon
Director: Simon Chung
Screenwriters: Simon Chung, Hiroshi Fukazawa
Producers: Simon Chung, Sophia Shek
Director of photography: Bowen Chung
Production designer: Agnes Siu
Editor: Nose Chan
Music: Ellison Lau
World sales: m-appeal World Sales