'Suk Suk': Film Review | Busan 2019

Busan International Film Festival
A rare, mature gay romance with plenty on its mind.

Hong Kong veteran Tai Bo and Golden Horse award winner Ben Yuen headline Ray Yeung's endearing and quietly angry gay twilight romance.

As time has gone by and we’ve all become more enlightened creatures (ahem), sensitive to those around us, formerly taboo subjects have become a little less so. Interracial romance, age gaps (usually involving an older woman) and teenage sexuality have all been addressed in cinema with varying degrees of success in the past couple of decades. But the last bastion of uncomfortable sexuality could be the admission that anyone even close to retirement age would possibly feel physical or emotional desire, unless it’s for comedic purposes.

Hong Kong director Ray Yeung broaches precisely that topic and doubles down with a moving portrait of a gay couple in their golden years in his latest, Suk Suk. Making its world premiere at Busan, the delicately rendered and quietly affecting drama about two elderly gay men still struggling with their identities in their 70s, and still attempting some form of happiness so late in life, is destined for a long life on the festival circuit, as well as with distributors looking to fill holes in the market for adult (meaning grown-up) dramas. Suk Suk should secure a place in the art house scene in Asia, where leads Tai Bo and 2018 Golden Horse-winner Ben Yuen will pique interest. Overseas urban markets should respond similarly, and streaming platforms are also a good fit.

In his third feature, writer-director Yeung rolls in some of the elements he’s examined in past films, among them self-acceptance, companionship and isolation. Suk Suk is his most accomplished, mature film to date, and Yeung demonstrates a keen eye for the social dynamics that impact us and how we respond to them, and finds space to bask in the simple pleasures, basic generosity and the safety net that is family while simultaneously dealing with homophobia, ageism and faith.

After washing his taxi, nearly retired Pak (Tai, City on Fire, Port of Call) takes a stroll to a nearby park and goes into its public bathroom. Married with two grown children, Pak has recently decided to start cruising, acknowledging, at least to himself, that he’s gay for the first time in his life. Finding no takers, he wanders into the park where he sees Hoi (Yuen), a widower with a son of his own, sitting on a bench. He tries an aggressive pickup, but Hoi shuts him down, suggesting instead they get to know each other. Though that first meeting is a bust, Pak and Hoi eventually strike up a friendship, then a romance, which both closeted men opt to keep under wraps.

Yeung keeps things simple in Suk Suk, both thematically and stylistically, never belaboring his points, tipping into archetype or opting for expected dramatic beats. The supporting characters and events are all about providing a context for the men’s cautious relationship. Pak’s pregnant daughter Fong (Wong Hiu-yee) has a struggling fiance, and the decent Pak helps out by lending out his cab rent-free. Hoi’s biggest fear is his Christian fundamentalist son Wan (Lo Chun-yip) discovering who he is, and losing his family for it. Both are doting grandfathers who are constantly forced to balance living authentically and living alone, and Leung Ming-kai’s unfussy camerawork lets their lives unfold without judgment. Yeung laces the pic with little details that enrich the story in understated ways and make it easy to empathize with Pak and Hoi; he doesn't need flashy images.

The film's best moments are its quietest ones, like Pak and Hoi sitting by the harbor; Fong's admission that she was sure she was the less favored child; and Pak’s bemused expression during his first visit to a gay sauna. The movie ultimately weaves a portrait that is refreshingly honest in its small tragedies and razor-sharp in its criticism of ongoing discrimination, be it based on age or sexuality.

Yuen picked up a Golden Horse for his performance as a transgender woman in Tracey, and he’s a nominee again for his role as Hoi in Suk Suk. The two men have a dignified, lived-in, believable chemistry that gives their moments of intimacy extra emotional heft, and Yeung's disinterest in lasciviousness ultimately adds a touch of bittersweetness to the central relationship and the film's ambiguous conclusion.

Production company: New Voice Film Productions
Cast: Tai Bo, Ben Yuen, Patra Au Ga-man, Lo Chun-yip, To Kong, Lam Liu-sing, Hu Yixin, Kwan Lau-ting, Chu Wai-keung
Director-screenwriter: Ray Yeung
Producers: Michael J. Werner, Teresa Kwong, Sandy Yip, Chowee Leow
Executive producers: Stan Guingon, Ray Yeung
Director of photography: Leung Ming-kai
Production designer: Albert Poon
Editor: Nose Chan
Music: Veronica Lee
Venue: Busan International Film Festival
World sales:
Films Boutique

In Cantonese
92 minutes