In its home country (China), "Lan yu" caused something of a scandal, as it is based on a rather infamous "e-novel" read by thousands of people online.
But in the United States, this filmed adaptation seems familiar perhaps overly familiar. In fact, the only thing that really differentiates this character drama from any number of well-acted but similarly routine romance tales, aside from its point of origin, is that its two main characters are gay.
To its credit, that side of things is handled fairly discreetly and tastefully (especially when compared to the explicitness of independently made American films on similar subjects). However, that restraint has also affected the story and characters negatively; neither is developed with any real emotion.
Consequently, there's no real heft to the story. The characters seem one-dimensional,
and the film is superficial and will probably be of interest primarily to its target audience.
The title character (Ye Liu) is a country boy who's come to Beijing in the late '80s to study architecture. It's there that he meets Chen Handong (Jun Hu), a businessman looking for a quick fling. However, over the course of the next decade, the two keep renewing their relationship in spite of Chen's many attempts to keep things otherwise and such intrusions as the violence in Tiananmen Square, a failed marriage for one of the men and economic turmoil that threatens to destroy Chen's business.
Director Stanley Kwan made a real splash with the 1987 romantic ghost tale "Rouge," but since then he has seemed content to push his personal agenda rather than grow as a filmmaker. For a film that's shorter than 90 minutes, this is pretty slow-going stuff. But he does get some good performances out of his lead players. In particular, Jun makes his character's conflicted feelings quite believable.
"Lan yu" is not rated but would probably receive an R for occasional use of strong sex-related profanity, flashes of full male nudity, scenes depicting gay sex and other sexual contact and some crude sexual talk and sexual humor. Running time: 83 minutes.