I have to admit I had trouble getting around to watching this film. I know we're all suppose to be oh so PC these days, and I know that gay people are ordinary people and there's nothing to be scared about, but that's one thing. Another thing is watching two of your favorite Hong Kong actors go at it, tongues so far down each other's throats that they might actually be able to tickle the other guys feet. But let's forget all that for at second and focus on one simple thing: Is "Bishonen" a good movie? Well, in a word... No.
One thing you should always be able to demand from a film, no matter what kind of film it is, is that it's going somewhere or has something to say. "Bishonen" comes up short in both departments. What could have been an intriguing and slightly dangerous love story, is instead a truly trivial single-minded look at gay life. The love story between Wu and Fung begins well, very sweet and subtle. But soon it becomes apparent that film has no idea where it's supposed to go, or what it's actually saying. First of all, it states that if you're gay, your best chance of happiness is to kill yourself, or at the very least leave town. Second, all gay people in the film are portrayed as cold distant people, with only sex on their minds.
The story is inspired by real events, where a famous photographer was discovered with a large collection of photographs featuring more or less naked men, all members of the HK police force. But this part of the plot is almost isolated from the rest of the film, and there is never any conclusion. Instead Bishonen focuses on who's sleeping with who, and why, like a gay Hong Kong version of Beverly Hills 90210, rather than examining what would happen if someone found out. I'm not sure how Asia looks upon gay people, but I suspect it's no different than the rest of the world. If that's so, shouldn't there be more at stake here? Wu is after all a police officer, would it not be a problem for him if it became public knowledge that he was gay?
The film ignores the family aspects until the very end. Wu is the only one who even has a family. By choosing Fung as protagonist who has no family and whose friends are all street hustlers like himself, the film effectively isolates the characters, and the question of whether his feelings are "normal" is ignored because there are no "normal" people in his life.
The film is also less than subtle when it describes how these men are attracted to each other. Sometimes looks and casual glances are overacted to the point of the absurd, to a rather unsettling cartoonish effect. In fact several scenes have an awkward feel, almost like an overrehearsed schoolplay.
A third person voiceover explains to us how the characters are feeling, and what they're thinking. Of course the question then is, why can't the film show us this through action and dialogue? The voiceover distances us from the characters, and adds to the films awkward feeling.
I absolutely love Daniel Wu (no, not in that way), but I am aware of his shortcomings. Director Yonfan is apparently completely oblivious to them, and gladly puts them all on display. Wu is rendered as the naive innocent gay man, who doesn't know he's doing anything wrong. His motivations and his feelings are unclear. He treats everybody like hell, but apparently Yonfan thinks he can get away with a character like this, if Daniel Wu just keeps looking goofy and lost.
Stephen Fung manages to hold on to his dignity for a while longer than Wu, because he's allowed to retain his usual smartass attitude, which works quite well for him. But soon he too is painted into a corner by the ridiculous script.
Shu Qi is only present in a few scenes and struggles to make sense of her fragmented part. One scene she's cute and in love with Wu, next scene she's hardass and picks up a girl in a bar. Her scenes are unconnected, and her change in behaviour is never explained, much less reflected upon. She simply is, forget about why. Maybe I'm overanalysing but in her final scene she actually seems genuinely pissed at the whole thing.
The final nail in the coffin is the music. It's not bad, in fact it's a very beautiful score, voluptuous and worthy of sweeping historic drama, Only problem is; this isn't a big historic movie, it's a small intimate movie, and the combination is simply laughable.
I'm not sure I would recommend even die hard fans of Shu Qi to sit through this film, to catch 5 seconds of her in a pretty dress. Even those who take an interest in gay people and their lives, will most likely be disappointed. In fact I can't imagine anyone walking away from this film feeling satisfied. Unless of course they were doing something else than watching it.