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  •  REVIEW: FLEEING BY NIGHT

    Fleeing By Night

    "Flee" circus

    The gay-themed Chinese-Taiwanese film "Fleeing By Night" has some touching moments but is too close to "Farewell My Concubine" for comfort.

    By MICHAEL BERRY
    Offoffoff.com

    Not too long ago, homoerotic themes in Chinese cinema were virtually unheard of; however, in recent years gay films have become an increasingly visible mainstay in the arena of Chinese cinema. From the now-classic "Farewell My Concubine" to Yon Fan's "Peony Pavilion" and from gender-bending Hong Kong comedies like "He's a Woman, She's a Man" to Stanley Kwan's brilliant "Yan Yu," Chinese-language gay film is quickly coming into its own as a veritable and important genre in Chinese film. The newest addition to this genre to make it to theaters stateside is the 2000 PRC-Taiwan joint production, "Fleeing by Night" ("Ye Ben").

      
    FLEEING BY NIGHT
    Original title: Ye Ben.
    Directed by: Li-Kong Hsu, Chi Yin.
    Written by: Hui-Ling Wang, Ming-xia Wang.
    Cast: Rene Liu, Lei Huang, Chao-te Yin, Li-jen Tai, Yaoxuan Shu, Ya-lei Kuei..
    In Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles.
    Not too long ago, homoerotic themes in Chinese cinema were virtually unheard of; however, in recent years gay films have become an increasingly visible mainstay in the arena of Chinese cinema. From the now-classic "Farewell My Concubine" to Yon Fan's "Peony Pavilion" and from gender-bending Hong Kong comedies like "He's a Woman, She's a Man" to Stanley Kwan's brilliant "Yan Yu," Chinese-language gay film is quickly coming into its own as a veritable and important genre in Chinese film. The newest addition to this genre to make it to theaters stateside is the 2000 PRC-Taiwan joint production, "Fleeing by Night" ("Ye Ben").

    Directed jointly by Li-kong Hsu (producer of "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "The Wedding Banquet") and Chi Yin, "Fleeing by Night" spins a tale of tale of passion, longing, and unrequited love against the backdrop of China on the eve of the War of Resistance against Japan. The film begins with Wei Ing'er (Rene Liu), the daughter of a wealthy theater owner, and her fiancÄ Shao-dung (Lei Huang), son of a business mogul who returns to China after studying music in America. (The casting marks a reunion of sorts as Huang and Liu also acted opposite one another in 1999's hit miniseries "Rhapsody in April.") Although Ing'er and Shao-dung never met, they exchanged letters and developed an affection for one another during Shao-dung's time abroad. This affection quickly transforms into a rather innocent romance — at least by today's standards, not according to Ing'er's traditional mother — after Shao-dung returns to China and he and Ing'er begin to court.

    Everything seems perfect until the appearance of Lin Chung (Chao-te Yin), the lead actor in the opera troupe temporarily staying at the Wei compound. An orphan raised since childhood by the opera troupe master, Lin adopts his name from the kunqu opera "Lin Chung Flees By Night," the role that wins him notoriety on the stage. What begins as a simple love story, quickly develops into a complex love triangle when both Ing'er and Shao-dung find themselves attracted to the handsome and mysterious Lin Chung. An added layer of complexity comes in the form of Huang Zilei (Li-jen Tai), a rich opera buff obsessed with Lin Chung and bent on possessing him. As the story progresses the respective fates of these characters are gradually drawn together as their lives and loves intersect in a tragic and moving way.

    The first few minutes of "Fleeing by Night," where the directors begin with a very loose narrative style juxtaposing an elderly Chinese man's lone wandering through present-day Manhattan with several characters in 1930s China, is a pleasure to watch. The restraint with which the film gradually brings the respective stories together works brilliantly and by the time the actual storyline subtly slips in, you are already hooked. That is not to say that the plot doesn't sometimes wear a bit thin. Viewers familiar with "Farewell My Concubine" will inevitably draw comparisons, and there are many (too many?) — orphaned opera stars abused by their master, sexual abuse as children, love triangles, struggles with gay identity, rich opera buffs who try to possess their beloved stars, and the list goes on. The sheer number of similarities lead one to suspect whether the producers were simply going for a cheap attempts to cash in on the success of "Farewell." At the same time, the film does not fail to make ample references to the classic kunqu opera "Peony Pavilion," screen and stage versions of which have also been the source of much critical praise of late.

    Rene Liu shines in her role as Ing'er. Her acting debut was coincidentally in a 1995 film entitled "Peony Pavilion" (Wo de meili yu aichou) — not to be confused with last year's award-winning lesbian film also called "Peony Pavilion" (Youyuan jingmeng). But performances by Lei Huang and Li-jen Tai, whose portrayal of the obnoxiously overbearing opera patron Huang Zilei cannot help but feel contrived and overdone. (Ge You did a better job as the delightfully perverted opera patron in "Farewell.") At 123 minutes, "Fleeing by Night" runs a bit long and it is not the most accurate as a period piece, but it does, nevertheless, have several redeeming qualities — foremost the story. If a melodramatic (not so racy) gay love story set in 1930s China is your ticket, see this flick, otherwise flee to your local video store and rent "Farewell my Concubine" — Chen Kaige did it first and better.

    MAY 3, 2002
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Fleeing By Night:

  • I loved it   from Michael, Aug 23, 2008
  • I think it is a very good movie   from Chau , Oct 8, 2009

  • Post a comment on "Fleeing By Night"