Suk Suk (叔叔, “uncles”, often used to address elderly men in Cantonese) revolves around two old men (hence the title), Pak (Tai Bo) and Hoi (Ben Yuen), both of whom gay but closeted because of the socio-cultural prejudice LGBTQ+ people still have to face in Hong Kong. After a casual encounter while cottaging near a park, they start meeting up regularly, finding some space for themselves in a gay sauna or even at Hoi’s place whenever his son and niece are not around. The two men slowly discover how beautiful it is to spend some time together even for futile things, like walking through the fish market or eating out at restaurants. Despite being so different in terms of personality, Hoi and Pak immediately hit it off: they share their mutual experience as old gay men forced into hiding and they simply realize they have much in common.
Retired and divorced, Hoi has raised a son on his own after his wife abandoned him after being “shocked” at discovering he was gay, while Pak works as a taxi driver, is married and has two children. Unlike Hoi, who has decided to express his true self in secret right from the start, Pak has opted for waiting until his children were grownups to look for casual gay sex in his free time; yet they both seem unable to bear the heavy weight of other people’s judgement on their shoulders, especially when it comes to their families. Consequently, they have both given up on fulfilling any possible dream of a life in the open as gay men by deliberately repressing who they really are in public, albeit with one notable difference: one night stands aside, Pak has never had any real contact with the Hong Kong gay community; he doesn’t have any gay friends nor has he ever visited any gay saunas (significantly, Hoi will be the one to introduce him to the gay scene, despite Pak casually mentions visiting a famous gay cruising spot in his youth, Yuk Tak Chee). Hoi, instead, is strongly connected to the local gay community: he has many gay friends, among whom Chui (Kong To) and Dior (Chu Wai-keung), both out and proud despite being discriminated against; he knows everyone in the sauna, and also takes part in gay men’s public meetings at the Fok Yau Ling Community Service Centre. Here is where young gay volunteers help older gay men boost their self-esteem, planning ways to take action and even convince some of the elders to publicly advocate for the opening of a nursing home for gay men run by young gay men, so as to be free to live as they really are once in retirement. Yet Hoi’s reluctance to come out eventually takes its toll: when a volunteer asks him to be the spokesman of the group, he simply says “I don’t want my family to know about me” ̶ as if being gay was something he could still repress despite meeting Pak. Then, as their relationship grows stronger and Pak decides to retire, living together suddenly becomes more than just a vague hope. Also, the unexpected gift Pak receives from his son, a monthly allowance meant to help him “enjoy life and finally have a good time”, seems to reinforce the idea that maybe, just maybe, it’s about time they both started living their true colours “in dignity” and without feeling any shame. Will desire and truth prevail over fear?
Written and directed by Ray Yeung, Suk Suk in a way is a typical old-school, 1980s-like Hong Kong love story, featuring a theme song echoing the protagonists’ growing fondness for one another; at the same time, though, it is much more than just a “simple” love story. More importantly, Suk Suk is also a political story aimed at giving voice to the LGBTQ+ issue, still considered to be a taboo topic in mainland China (but not in Taiwan, where a law legalizing same-sex marriages has been in force since 2019, and probably that’s the reason why we see a postcard depicting the island among Hoi’s personal belongings). Not coincidentally, the LGBTQ+ issue has become increasingly important in Hong Kong, where anti-central government protests of all kinds have been raging on for years now (though, truth be told, awareness-raising actions on these issues have become relevant in some mainland cities too, including Guangzhou). More specifically, Suk Suk is a truly eye opener in explaining how hard coming out can be not just for children talking to their parents, but also for parents (and grandparents) talking to their children; this is what makes the film particularly important, as it shifts the focus of dealing with one’s own sexual orientation from teenage years to old age, a life phase usually dismissed as “not cool enough” for films or subconsciously considered by people to be virtually nonexistent, and thus not worth mentioning at all.
In my view, though, Suk Suk also is a passionate embrace and a loving view on Hong Kong, its people and hidden treasures, like yuen yeung (a drink you must absolutely taste while visiting the city!!) ̶ half tea, half coffee, married in milk, probably a hint at the perfect match between Hoi and Pak but possibly meant also as a token for Hong Kong’s distinctive peculiarity, no longer described either as a “cultural desert” and bland backdrop of ephemeral blockbusters (like Wong Jing’s films) or as a postmodern site, “a borrowed place on borrowed time” visually celebrated in the fragmented esthetics of post-new wave cinema (Wong Kar-wai’s among many). Besides, if we take the multiple forms of resistance enacted by Hong Kong citizens against the central government’s control into consideration (quite recently, on the day of the handover anniversary, July 1st, a new law on national security was passed to make sure all forms of “subversive activities” will be eradicated once and for all from the Special Administrative Region, should these activities contradict the mono-dimensional, and strictly heterosexual, macronarrative of the CCP), Suk Suk may also be seen as a cry for freedom of a city consciously trying to rediscover and highlight its difference in terms of culture and traditions in the very moment the long arm of CCP’s power is silencing them to oblivion. Probably, this was also the reason why, being an affectionate view to Hong Kong, the film was fondly rewarded by the public both in local theatres and at the 39th Hong Kong Film Awards, where Tai Bo was awarded a prize as Best Actor. This is all the more important, considering that Suk Suk is an independent film featuring an all-Hong Kong cast acting in Cantonese only, without any mainland film company involved in the production and thus potentially marring its political message.
Screened at the Far East Film Festival in its online 2020 edition, unfortunately the film was one of the few available on a fixed schedule only. I strongly believe this prevented many people from the possibility of watching it, as the slot chosen for the one-off screening was the afternoon one, at 5:30 pm CET. Despite this flaw, including Suk Suk in the official selection testifies to the FEFF organizers’ will to promote LBGTQ+-related issues and raise awareness about them, something we absolutely need in a world still characterized by episodes of strong lesbo/bi/homo/transphobia and even by death penalty against LGBTQ+ people in many countries, despite same-sex marriage laws passed in few areas of the globe. As it happened with The Rib by Wei Zhang (from FEFF 21) and Close-knit by Naoko Ogigami (which was awarded the Golden Mulberry at FEFF 19), once again the Far East Film Festival helped shed light on the civil rights issue, giving us the possibility to watch such a wonderful bittersweet story as the one depicted in Suk Suk, a film I strongly recommend to everyone.