Thursday, August 4, 2016

Romance, the closet, China! Raymond Yeung's happy/sad gay love story FRONT COVER opens

What happens when an ace stylist (gay, of course:"All the good ones are," he explains early on) for a major fashion magazine in New York City gets the job of styling a shoot involving a red-hot and very popular Chinese actor who's just a little bit uncomfortable around homosexuals? Given that the movie under consideration is a gay film, you can probably choose among several typical scenarios and come pretty close to correct.

What makes FRONT COVER charming and entertaining, however, is its combination of decent dialog, good performances, deft direction and an insistence, where the home stretch is concerned, on believability over feel-good.

The writer/director here is one, Raymond Yeung, aka Ray Yeung (shown at left), a Hong Kong-based filmmaker with a few earlier films to his credit. His latest explores Asian identity and sexual identity, both East and West versions -- in China (via that popular leading-man actor) and here in the USA (from the POV of our fashion stylist). Neither one, it turns out, is all that comfortable behind the mask that he has created for himself. All of which proves nothing much new, but the way Mr. Yeung handles his tale is appropriate, often fun, and finally surprisingly moving.

In some ways the movie is quite a typical gay film. Our hero, Ryan (Jake Choi, on poster, top) is surrounded by stereotypical characters, from his diva boss at the fashion mag (Sonia Villani, above) to his BFF (played by Jennifer Neala Page, below). Both actresses do what they can with limited and rather obvious material, but fortunately the movie concentrates most of its mind and heart on its two leading men.

These are played by Mr. Choi, as the Asian-American stylist who only has sex with white guys, and James Chen (below) as Ning, the hot young Chinese actor, who is himself constricted by his "image" and constantly surrounded by female hangers-on.

After a rocky start, the two men begin to warm up to each other and an interesting bond is formed. Yeung's style -- via both dialog and visuals -- is mostly graceful and loose, which makes it easy for us to willingly tag along. And the performances of Chen and Choi are lovely, too: funny and smart, with both men uptight in different ways for different reasons.

Ryan's parents (Ming Lee and Elizabeth Sung, above) get into the picture, and while their behavior may seem typical to Asians, for us Americans, they appear just different enough to raise the interest level a notch or two. And if the ensuing relationship between the young men seems initially a little too easy, wait a bit.

Plenty of drama and good/bad possibilities are provided when a photo, above, is surreptitiously taken and released to the media. The outcome may divide audiences between those who demand their feel-good fix and those who prefer some reality with their romance. For me, the finale proved not merely bittersweet but downright sad, lifting the movie out of typical gay rom-com fluff and into something richer and deeper -- out of which a dose of genuine character might even be built.

Front Cover -- from Strand Releasing and running 87 minutes -- is worth a watch. After screening at various GLBT festivals, it opens theatrically this Friday, August 5, in New York City at City Cinema's Village East Cinema, and the following Friday, August 12, in Los Angeles at the the Sundance Sunset Cinema. To see other currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed, click here and then click on Screenings on the task bar midway down the page.

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