Ray Yeung’s queer films in focus at New York Asian Film Festival

Ryan (Jake Choi) and Ning (James Chen) kiss in the club in “Front Cover.”
Strand Releasing

This year’s New York Asian Film Festival, unspooling July 12-28 at Lincoln Center, SVA Theater, and Look Cinemas W57, features a handful of LGBTQ features and shorts. 

The festival is honoring out gay writer/director Ray Yeung as its “Filmmaker in Focus.” In a recent interview, a humbled Yeung said, “What a privilege and honor that NYAFF selected me as their Filmmaker-in-Focus this year! I always try to stay authentic to the stories I tell, in representing minority groups within the LGBTQ+ community. I am very fortunate to be able to do the work I enjoy and be appreciated by industry colleagues, friends and audiences.”

Yeung will be in attendance and presenting his films with actors Patra Au, Tai-Bo, Jake Choi, and James Chen, along with producers Michael J. Werner and Stan Guingon. The festival will host the New York premiere of Yeung’s latest feature, “All Will Be Well,” (July 13, 9:00pm, Walter Reade Theater). This poignant, touching drama chronicles Angie (Patra Au), who faces some unexpected challenges after her lover Pat (Lin-Lin Li) suddenly dies. Viewers will feel incredible empathy for Angie because Patra Au’s performance is so beautifully calibrated. She is silent and stoic; her grief and loneliness as well as her pain and memories are all palpable. Yeung’s absorbing film is modest and understated, but it is also quietly powerful.

Likewise, Yeung’s bittersweet 2019 romance, “Twilight’s Kiss (Suk Suk)” (July 14, 6:00 pm Walter Reade Theater) has Pak (Tai-Bo, a festival honoree), meeting Hoi (Ben Yuen) in a park where Pak was cruising one afternoon. The closeted older men slowly embark on a friendship that soon turns into a sexual relationship. Yeung’s sensitive film captures the quotidian aspects of these ordinary lives that undergo deep and profoundly subtle changes. A shot of Pak and Hoi’s hands clasping or feet touching brims with genuine affection, and an episode where Hoi visits the home of his friend Chiu (Kong To), speaks volumes about loneliness and aging. Yeung’s exquisite, and wonderfully acted film is full of such marvelous moments.

And in Yeung’s fabulous 2015 romance, “Front Cover,” (Thursday July 18, 6:00pm; Walter Reade Theater), Ryan (the charming Jake Choi) is an American-born Chinese fashion stylist who is proud of being gay, but feels ashamed about being Asian. He is assigned to work with Ning (the sexy James Chen) a proud Chinese actor promoting his new film in New York. The two men are “like fire and water,” with Ning telling Ryan “not to show his homo side.” Of course, as the guys grow closer, a relationship develops, and it changes both of their perspectives on sexuality and ethnicity. It is swoon-inducing. 

Other highlights from the festival include: “The Missing,” (July 21, 4:00pm (Walter Reade Theater), a powerful animated drama from the Philippines, written and directed by Carl Joseph Papa. Eric (voiced by Calo Aquino) is missing his mouth. It is both a physical and symbolic absence; he cannot speak because of a trauma he suffered in his past. His mother, Rosalinda (Dolly De Leon), is unaware of the source of Eric’s pain, but he is treated with patience and care by his co-worker, Carlo (Gio Gahol). The two young men share a mutual attraction, but Eric can’t act on it because he is re-traumatized after finding his uncle Rogerio (Joshua Cabiladas) dead. Eric starts seeing “aliens” who want to take his body. The rotoscope animation works very well to convey the physical and emotional states of the characters — especially as Eric experiences bouts of mental illness. Moreover, flashbacks to Eric as a 9-year-old boy — which are cleverly depicted in a different, rougher style of animation — reveal what trigger Eric. Papa has crafted a moving and potent story, and he tells it with sensitivity and compassion.

Two films in the Taiwanese BL (Boys Love) genre will screen at the festival. “The Time of Huan Nan” (July 13, 6:00pm; Look Cinemas, LOOK Cinemas W57) is an epic romance, that opens in 2022 with Yao Hua Chen (Hsia Teng Hung) caring for his father Bao Ding Chen (Cheng-Ju Shan) and meeting Kang Min Yu (Wang Yu Ping), a young woman who knew Bao Ding when he was her age. Yao Hua soon manages to go back in time 30 years to meet Bao Ding Chen (Edison Song) and his secret boyfriend, An Jian Zhang (Chu Meng Hsuan). As the quartet share meals, go camping, and make memories, the intimacy between Bao Ding and An Jian develops. Scenes of the guys washing in a community bath, or facepainting in secret, drip with homoeroticism. But Bao Ding Chen’s father Ming Qing Chen (Cheng Ping-Chun) expresses his disapproval when he discovers love letters An Jian has written to his son. As Yao Hsu watches this unfold, he gains a greater respect for his father, even if questions are raised about his birth. While viewers have to forgive some gaps in the narrative, “The Time of Huan Nan” delivers a glossy romantic drama.

"A Balloon's Landing."
“A Balloon’s Landing.”New York Asian Film Festival

“A Balloon Landing” (July 14, 4:15pm; Look Cinemas, LOOK Cinemas W57), has Tian-Yu (Terrance Lau), a writer, meeting A-Xiang (Fandy Fan), a gangster, who takes him on a road trip to a hidden seashore known as the Bay of Vanishing Whales. Both are running from bad situations; Tian-Yu is contemplating suicide, and A-Xiang is being chased by four gangsters. But they come to care for — and about — each other as they share meals and a bed, experience car trouble, go swimming, and more. While the romance is chaste, Lau and Fan have terrific chemistry. “A Balloon Landing” shows how a chance encounter can save a stranger. Sentimental viewers will melt.  

In addition, there are several queer shorts featuring gay and lesbian characters screening at the festival. “Fish Boy” (July 12, 2:15pm; Walter Reade Theater), has the teenage Patrick (Ian Chen) trying to break away from his strict, religious parents. He hangs out with the alluring Brian (Ted Angelo Ngkaion), and Kelli (Emily Lê), his best friend, both of whom accept him as he is. As a dream sequence and some magical realism illustrate, Patrick feels guilt about not living up to others’ expectations of him. Director Christopher Yip’s short feels more like a sketch than a fully realized film, but it captures Patrick’s conflicted emotions well. 

“Let” (July 12, 4:45pm; Walter Reade Theater), written and directed by Alyssa Loh, is an intense short about Mia (Sonoya Mizuno), an NYU law student, whose penchant for S&M scares off her girlfriend Simone (Juliana Canfield). When she meets Josie (An-Li Bogan) in a bar, Mia may have found someone who can help her feel both pain and pleasure. “Let” is an interesting, moody, and well-acted short about how Mia processes her desires and how her self-harm impacts both her and others.

“Something Blue” (July 16, 3:15 pm, Walter Reade Theater) has bride-to-be Lu (Chen Yusha) meeting her ex (Ma Ximan), who insists they make a snowy trek to North Korea. This impressionistic short is more wistful than romantic as it depicts the changing dynamic between these two young women.

In “Push-Up” (July 18, 6:00 pm at the Korean Cultural Center) Shinwoo (Shin Mi-so) gains some confidence while grappling with her desire for Eunhee (Lee Seung-Yeon), her classmate who teaches her how to do a pushup. The looks between the two young girls convey so much in this reflective short.

“The New York Asian Film Festival” | July 12-28 at Lincoln Center, SVA Theater, and Look Cinemas W57 | For tickets and more information, visit nyaff.org/