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CANNES 2021 Un Certain Regard

Review: Moneyboys

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- CANNES 2021: CB Yi highlights the inner turmoil of a gay hustler with family problems in South China

Review: Moneyboys
Bai Yufan (left) and Kai Ko in Moneyboys

Moneyboys [+see also:
trailer
interview: CB Yi
film profile
]
is a stylishly made, if slightly distanced, film about boys partaking in the world's oldest profession. The movie starts like a fashionable gay hustler movie, a brightly coloured Cruising, if you will, with a shopping trip, partying and sex scenes. However, it develops into a contemplative tale of family and redemption after the action jumps forward five years, following a fight that ensures that Fei (Kai Ko) must leave the village where he operates. Playing in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, it is the debut feature by writer-director CB Yi, a graduate of the Vienna Film Academy, where a certain Michael Haneke is a teacher.

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Set in South China, although it was shot in Taiwan, Moneyboys is a film of contrasts. The bright, neon colours on the Hawaiian shirts and the colourful images within the frame suggest a party vibe, which is at odds with the stillness of the frame and a respectfully observational camera that gives the drama on screen a melancholic air. Both choices are bold and work in unison with each other to reflect the different sides of Fei, a young, attractive and stylish man who goes from being a young rookie under the tutelage of Xiaolai (JC Lin) to being a streetwise and successful hustler in the big city. The police are constantly on his tail, trying to clamp down on male prostitution in China, and this means that Fei is constantly on the move. He's never allowed to be himself, although he recognises that his willingness to break the law makes him a more valuable commodity.

Fei's inner sadness becomes the film's main thrust when it segues into a sequence that shows his relationship with his family, whom he provides for by regularly sending money to them. He heads home to pay his respects to his dying grandfather but falls foul of his family when they question the source of his money. It seems they can happily spend his cash just as long as they can pretend it's kosher. Fei is soon on the move again, but this time, he's followed to the city by his childhood friend Long (Bai Yufan), and a relationship soon blossoms between them, with Fei now in the protector role. The arrival of the childhood buddy adds some spice to the proceedings. The return of Xiaolai, whom Fei still views as a sort of guardian, is entirely predictable. By this time, the film has established that it will be uninvolving, reflecting Fei's refusal to be engaged emotionally. Cinematographer Jean-Louis Vialard's camera also creates a distancing effect as CB Yi tries to lure us into his protagonist's mindset.

Ko carries the film as Fei and manages to make him involving almost despite, rather than because of, the opaque style of the filmmaking. Moneyboys is striking because it's a rare film that depicts homosexuality in China, and it does so with sensitivity and warmth for the turmoil that being an outsider can cause someone. Nonetheless, the pacing ensures that it will bring the most joy to those who like plenty of room for contemplation as the scenes unfold.

Moneyboys is an Austrian-French-Taiwanese-Belgian co-production staged by KGP Filmproduktion, Zorba, Flash Forward Entertainment and Panache Productions. Its international sales are overseen by Totem Films.

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