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Speechless

September 8, 2015

SlessHong Kong — mainland China film about a mute Frenchman who is found naked by the banks of a river in Wuhan in mainland China. He is rescued and sent to a local hospital where he is treated by a male nurse who cares for him and later discovers the secrets of his past.

It’s a film of two halves, beginning as a slow-burning mystery-cum-romance before turning into a love-triangle thriller, but it doesn’t really manage to pull off making those parts into a cohesive whole. A naked Westerner walks into a river and is washed up on the banks of a nearby town. The police take him in but he refuses to speak, or is incapable of speech. Eventually they transfer him to the local hospital where he is befriended by Jiang, a handsome young nursing assistant, who brings him home-made steamed buns, and a tentative friendship develops. Before the silent foreigner can be transported to a mental institution Jiang helps him escape and takes him into the countryside where they visit the places Jiang spent his childhood. They begin to unlock things in each other, and this leads them back into how Luke, as we discover the foreigner is called, came to the decision to drown himself. A French exchange student, Luke started an affair with Han who, along with his girlfriend Yun, is a member of a local Chinese Christian church. When Yun discovers what Luke and Han are up to she takes it upon herself to expose Han publicly and humiliates him to the point of suicide..

In an online interview, the director states he did not have official permission from the Chinese authorities to make this film. Some scenes where filmed “underground”.

Church’s caretaker: There are no airtight walls in the world.

Han Dong: [posthumous voiceover, as recalled by Luke] Maybe I’m not really worthy of your love. But all these aren’t important anymore. I only hope that henceforth when I’m in your thoughts once in a while, what comes to your mind is not my weakness, but our happiness of being together.

The director: The two Chinese characters in my film are both from small towns, and for such people, homosexuality is mostly underground. Some may not even be aware of their own sexual desires. Of course nowadays with the Internet people can read about such things, but it’d be difficult for them to find someone to have sex with, much less a sustained relationship. (Mind you, Grindr and Facebook are both banned in China.) Perhaps some will have furtive encounters in public baths or toilets, and that’s it. Most gay men and women in China have heterosexual marriages, even in big cities. So for Han and Jiang in my film, they would probably not have acted out their sexuality until they had met Luke.

I think Luke was traumatized because he held himself responsible for Han’s comatose state. He felt that if it wasn’t for him, Han would have just went on with his relationship with Ning, and eventually gotten married. He was also hit by the realization that an innocent college romance would have such dire consequences.

The inspiration for the film came from the “Piano Man,” a guy who washed up off the eastern coast of England a few years ago. There was no ID on him and he refused to speak, so they took him to a mental hospital. He was given a piano and started playing, and stories became circulating of him being a musical genius who went mad, like the guy in “Shine.” In reality he was a gay student from Germany who had a mental breakdown. I transplanted the story to China because I wanted to see what would happen to such a character there. The film goes both ways: it is about homosexuality in China from a Western perspective, and also about Chinese perception of Westerners.

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From → Film, Sexuality

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