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Director – Li Jun – 2018 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 119m


It’s complicated. Upon hearing of the death of his oldest and dearest friend, a fiftysomething questions the edifice of family life he has constructed around himself over the decades – screened online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th

Tung Tai-hung (Philip KeungA Witness Out Of The Blue, Fung Chi-Keung, 2019) is wakened from a dream by a phone call. In the dream, he’s a teenager hanging out with his friends Ching (Wong Yat-ho) and Jun (Sham Ka-ki) by a local waterfall. The phone caller informs him of Ching’s death. For years Tai-hung has been using the loo at work to change into the ladies undergarments he never wears at home where it’s unlikely he’d be able to hide their wearing from his misophobic wife Anne (Kara Wai) who recently shocked their son Vincent (Ng Siu Hin – A Witness Out Of The Blue, Fung Chi-Keung, 2019, Mad World, Wong Chun, 2016) by badmouthing the maid Parti (Candy Knutzen Darwati) after going through the latter’s things and finding a packet of condoms.

The lives of Tai-hung’s nearest and dearest are not exactly happy families. In addition to his wife behaving like a member of the secret police, his pregnant daughter Brigitte (Jennifer Yu) has contracted Gonorrhea from her philandering husband. Vincent, meanwhile, has a fairly conservative relationship with his tattooist girlfriend Ka Yan (Panther Chan). Tai-hung’s grown up friend Jun (Eric Kot) is an inveterate womaniser who makes no secret of the fact.

Ching has been resident in the UK where gay marriage is legal (which it isn’t in Hong Kong) so when his bereaved husband Bond Tann (River Huang) arrives in the territory, his partner’s ashes are promptly confiscated by the airport authorities plunging Bond into the middle of a Hong Kong constitutional maelstrom which will set a legal precedent when the ashes are eventually returned to him.

The philandering Jun who always thought he was the one of the three is shocked to learn that Ching was gay and that his own sexual activity lies within comparatively simple boundaries. He will be even more surprised that not only does the trans Tai-hung cross-dress but also considers himself a woman trapped in a man’s body.

Aiding both of them in Tai-hung’s coming out process is an old Peking Opera performer friend of the three known by his nickname Brother Darling (Ben Yuen, 2046, Wong Kar-wai, 2004, Koma, Law Chi-leung, 2004, The Eye, Oxide and Danny Pang, 2002) who used to play female roles using a falsetto voice. Tai-hung reconnects with Brother Darling after a decades-long gap when he runs into him at one of Anne’s amateur Peking Opera gigs. Bond later suggests to Tai-hung that Brother Darling, who belongs to a generation too old to have ever used the term ‘trans’, may be like him. When the four of them go out nightclubbing with both Tai-hung and Brother Darling in full drag, the latter two both experience a deep sense of coming home.

Alas, Tai-hung is spotted in drag by Vincent who is less than happy about it and tells his mum. This leads to a disarming confrontation between husband and wife, with Anne having long since suspected her husband was having some sort of sexual identity crisis.

There’s an undercurrent to all this: the more repressive a regime, the less tolerant it tends to be of any variation to the social model of the heterosexual couple. With Hong Kong no longer enjoying British Crown colony status since being handed back to the Chinese in 1997 and moving slowly but inexorably towards the more repressive, totalitarian Chinese socio-political model, social forces pushing for traditional sexual mores take on a political edge while LGBTQ people’s lives are made increasingly difficult.

This is present in the narrative in terms of the hostile and conservative wife and son, with more sympathetic views represented by the three friends and the deceased’s partner, the lawyer the hire and – in a surprising turn up events – the son’s girlfriend. Aside from the legal battle waging over the ashes somewhere at the edge of the script, the state is relegated to a fairly minor player while immediate family and friends have a much greater role in the drama that plays out. But then Hong Kong movies, even back in 2018 when this was released, have always had to be very careful about what (if any) political issues they tackled and how they tackled them.

That said, the film is thoroughly engrossing from start to finish with memorable performers from its ensemble cast. Even the three youth actors seen intermittently in dream flashback are well cast in that the viewer believes they and the adults playing their grown up selves are the same people (this sounds obvious, but believably casting characters played by two or more actors at different stages in those characters’ lives is a tough act to pull off successfully in a film, sadly, so any film that gets this right is to be commended).

That Tracey covers a whole range of sexual lifestyles is impressive, as is its managing to engross and entertain its audience while in the process being sympathetic to a wide range of views on the subject. Perhaps the last word should go to Anne who, when her husband implores her that the panties found in his pocket don’t mean he’s been cheating on her with another woman, comments to him sharply, “I rather wish you had.”

Footnote: The minor part of Tai-hung’s sister is played by Ivy Pang Ngan-ling of Old Man And A Dog (Ryan Chan Hon-yan, 2019).

Tracey screened online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th.


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