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Travails of a family moving from Hong Kong to Toronto, focusing on an inexperienced gay son


Written and Directed by Simon Chung

Released in USA on November 6, 2005, at the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
Drama (romance)
80 min.

Amazon • trailerimdb

Review by Stephen O. Murray

December 31, 2007.

Cantonese/Canadian writer-director Simon Chung spent five years getting financing for his 2005 low-budget, feature-film debut titled Innocent in English, though the Chinese title, Ji oi mak sun yen, means “Love Only Strangers.”

The protagonist is “innocent” in some ways though remarkably bold for a nice Chinese boy in the alien (and in my experience intensely alienating) world of Toronto.

Long-faced 17-year-old Eric [Timothy Lee] and his younger sister Doris [Stephanie Chang] have very good reason to feel tricked by their parents since their parents are immigrating to Canada and only tell their children that they are visiting relatives there.

The marriage may have been disintegrating in Hong Kong, but that their parents [Jovita Adrineda and Wilson Wong] are simultaneously starting a business (a restaurant) in the strange and cold land and not getting along with each other becomes apparent to Eric and Doris.

Eric knows that he is gay and goes about getting some sexual experience with a “rice queen” named Larry [Larry Peloso], who, is portrayed kindly in the script. Larry disappoints Eric—just as everyone else does (with the exception of Doris, but she’s a younger sister). Eric has crushes on a sequence of three boys more or less his own age, two of them Chinese, none of whom responds as Eric hopes (that is, wants to be his boyfriend). Indeed, all three shun or flee him.

innocentfilm2Having lived in Toronto, I know that it is not easy to get from Chinatown or the Church Street gay concentration to fields of golden grain. Eric repeatedly does, however, including at the end, having been in Manhattan in the scene before.

It seems to me that Chung didn’t know how his story should end, but the characters of Eric, his family, and his (fair-weather) friends are deftly and believably drawn. The disappointments that pile up on Eric are also believable tests of his resiliency (or adolescent ability to shrug off most anything?)

I liked the vivid colors of the movie (lensed by Vinit Borrison) as well as the realistic performances. In bonus features both Simon Chung and Timothy Lee say that Eric is much bolder than they ever were. And, considering the frustrations and disappointments he faces, he is refreshingly free of self-pity and teenage angst.

Although the protagonist is a yearning gay boy, the film certainly shows strains (on him and on the rest of his family) exacerbated by emigration/immigration.

The dialogue is about 45% in English, 45% in Cantonese, and 10% in Mandarin. There is no graphic sex and some unrevealing nudity. Given the homophobia of MPAA, the focus on a gay youth might have been slapped with an NC-17 rating. Had Eric’s desires been for girls, it would have been rated PG-13. (It was not submitted for rating.)

Running only 80 minutes, Innocent is not a great movie, but its quirky charms are promising beginnings for Chung and Lee and their pickup cast (mostly friends of friends, since casting calls yielded hardly anyone, according to Chung), and I hope (and I’m sure he hopes) that it doesn’t take Simon Chung another five years to raise money to make another film!

DVD Extras

The DVD also includes two of Chung’s short-films, both set in Hong Kong and both featuring a Cantonese-speaking bottle blond gay boy, Oliver Williams. Stanley Beloved was included in the first Boys Briefs (1999),  also starring Wes Wong hanging with Williams before Wong is going to be shipped out of Hong Kong to boarding school. Life is Elsewhere is also included on the DVD.

published on epinions, 31 December 2007
©2007, 2016 by Stephen O. Murray


About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.