Forbidden Love: Africa and Asia (Film Thoughts: Rafiki/Lan Yu)

rafiki-136713The love that dare not speak its name: this theme depicting homosexuality in movies used to be the norm, but in this day and age, is it still relevant? I thino f that even as I see two movies back to back exploring that very theme.

First is ‘Rafiki,’ directed by Wanuri Kahiu. This film was the first Kenyan film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and it comes with a bit of controversy, as it has previously been banned in its home country, and the battle even went up to their Supreme Court, with the court overthrowing the ban. (It finally was screened in theaters to sold out audiences)  The film presents a simple love story, as two daughters of competing politicians fall in love. The conflicts are layered – they battle homophobia and then the familial entanglements. It’s a bit too melodramatic at times, but the performances by Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva as the star-crossed lovers really elevate this. It captured my heart and melted it.

lanyuStanley Kwan’s ‘Lan Yu’ also did, though it is a less successful film.  From 2001, this film depicts a relationship between a successful businessman and a country boy. In its synopsis, the film boasts that it is a story from the 80s amidst the back drop of the rallies from Tiannamen Square. And though they vaguely reference it, we don’t really see it. Hu Jun plays an assumed corrupt businessman who pays for his involvements afterwards, and there’s enough conflict there, so the sad ending felt tacked on and unwarranted. Still, I cared about the characters enough to be touched by the film.

Cute Expectations (Movie Thoughts: This Is Not What I Expected)

90f23b0c51e4c9b448a6763b428d75a9Set in Shanghai, ‘This Is Not What I Expected’ tries to fill the rom-com dearth in my life. Unfortunately, though, it comes up short.

This Chinese movie, set in Shanghai, isn’t bad. It’s just a little bit too by-the-numbers. I always say that these kinds of movies are deep set on formula, but what will set them apart will be chemistry and charisma.

Takeshi Kaneshiro plays Lu Jin, your serious straight-laced businessman who keeps on encountering Gu Shengnan, played by Zhou Dongyu. They meet cute, sure, but they keep on meeting and Derek Hui just tries so hard to keep them cuter and cuter until you become so annoyed with them. And he makes Gu quirly with a capital Q, and it just seems so ‘manufactured’ to me that after a while I did not believe it anymore.

But the two actors do have chemistry, though. Even as they saddle through a cliched script, they almost pull it off by instilling a beating heart into the story. Plus, I have to admit it felt a little long to me – some situations could have benefited from a little editing. Still, the initial cuteness is appealing enough, like a Hello Kitty Doll that outstays its welcome.