It's unusual enough to see a Chinese film about gay love, a subject still under severe suppression. But as that sprawling nation makes strides toward openness, Simon Chung's drama "Speechless" uses its romances between a French student and two Chinese nationals as a telling metaphor for the not-so-subtle differences in attitudes about homosex between cultures.
We first meet Luke, a thin, handsome exchange student, as a troubled young man on the verge of suicide. In the first of the many metaphors that inform (and, some would say, overburden) the film, Luke is incapable of speech.
That lack ends up speaking volumes about the nature of Luke's relationship with a local, Han, who is a member of a Christian church -- another telling symbol, this one of an outsider within his own culture. When the closeted Han's girlfriend discovers what's going on, she uses public humiliation as a way to end the affair.
Luke's relationship with Han, and his budding romance with a nurse's assistant who tries to help him out of the hole into which Han and his erstwhile girlfriend are juxtaposed, are two sides of Luke's own way of dealing with what used to be called the Mysterious East.
That's not to be snide, but the film does walk a fine line between a sensitive portrayal of gay love and the clash of cultures. This is a topic that has been explored before, in works such as David Henry Hwang's "M. Butterfly."
Chung may not break new ground here; and he may ground the plot down in an over-extended flashback and too many "sensitive" shots that are probably daring in China but somewhat clichéd here. Still, this is an interesting exploration of the tentative steps Chinese gay men are making toward expressing their sexuality.