Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- Were the art house crowd to hiss at "Solos," and the mainstream audience to walk out halfway from its screening, it would be perfectly understandable, though it is not a sloppily executed or insincere piece of work.

Co-directed by Singaporeans Loo Zihan and Kan Lume, "Solos" is a nondialogue representation of the relationship between a gay couple and one of their mothers. Shot and edited like a graduation assignment by a student trying to apply every technique he learned, it is a misfired attempt to be both intimate and coolly detached, both documentarylike and experimental. Consequently, the final product is none of the above. It probably does not belong to a festival or public screening but would feel more at home as a museum visual art acquisition or looped on a TV in an avant garde installation.

The opening shot of a male couple entangled in each other's arms hints at more erotic things that never come. The larger half of the film is a decontextualized record of their mundane activities, like packing and unpacking in their own apartment, having a meal with one of their mothers, taking framed pictures in or out of the two households.

The couple's interactions are intercut with the lonely existence of the younger man's mother doing household chores, making futile calls (probably to her son) and having a histrionic fit. Since there is no dialogue to contextualize the characters' visible emotional states, one feels very unwilling to get drawn into their worlds.

A dolorous air hangs over the couple's appearances, even when they are having sex with each other, themselves or with other parties. These are choreographed in familiar positions that will hardly raise any eyebrows. Perhaps certain national guidelines discouraging the portrayal of homosexuals as having healthy, upbeat, fulfilling lifestyles are taken into consideration, but it's no excuse as there are a hundred ways of making taboo tantalizing.

For every 10 budding gay Asian filmmakers, there is probably one Tsai Ming-liang wannabe. In "Solo," the immobile long takes of the mother's domestic drudgery and nervous tension have the outlines of familiar Tsai standards, like the medium close-up of Yang Kuei Mei crying in one take uncut for about five and a half minutes in "Vive L'Amour." The gay men's coupling also echoes Tsai's indispensable scenes of lonely, loveless sex, but Kan and Loo barely grasp the form let alone the content.

The film is partly shot in sepia or black and white, and partly in sharp, piercing colors. The latter are mostly reserved for some surrealistic shots or sequences, of the couple posing in a verdant bamboo forest or a fish flapping about gulping its last breath. Cinematographically quite professional and sometimes even stunningly composed, they are nothing but visual non-sequiturs.

Red Dawn Productions Pte. Ltd
Directors: Kan Lume, Loo Zihan
Screenwriter: Loo Zihan
Producer: Florence Ang
Music: Darren Ng
Editors: Kan Lume, Loo Zihan, Meghan Khan
Older man: Lim Yu-Beng
Younger man: Loo Zihan
 Mother: Goh Guat Kian

Running time -- 70 minutes
No MPAA rating