‘Suk Suk’ Tenderly Depicts the Quiet Entanglements of a Secret Queer Relationship in the Twilight Years
Suk Suk is a quiet portrayal of a gay relationship between two men in their twilight years. Although both are secretly gay, they are proud of the families they have created through hard work and hardship over the years.
Director: Ray Yeung
Cast: Tai-Bo, Ben Yuen, Patra Au, Lo Chun Yup
Country: Hong Kong
Runtime: 92 minutes
While the past decade has seen an unmistakable sea change of LGBTQ+ representation in film, it may be surprising for many that Asian cinema has always been ahead of the curve in this aspect.
Hong Kong cinema, in particular, has arguably been at the forefront for decades with notable works highlighting LGBTQ+ stories, including Wong Kar-Wai’s 1997 queer classic Happy Together which earned him the Best Director Award at Cannes. Even so, Hong Kong cinema still has a long way to go with its stubborn tradition of using queer caricatures as comedy punching bags.
Hong Kong director Ray Yeung breaks new grounds in representation with Suk Suk 《叔．叔》.
So movingly and poignantly, it shines a light on the lives of Pak (Tai-Bo) and Hoi (Ben Yuen). Despite being married with grandchildren, both elderly men lead secret lives as homosexuals. However, a chance encounter reignites their lifelong internal struggle with their sexuality.
Pak and Hoi embody two shunned groups in Hong Kong, with the film detailing the conservative society’s prejudice of the LGBTQ+ community as well as the cold loneliness of being a part of the city state’s ballooning elderly population. While the film often does rely on this inbuilt heft for its core emotional impacts, Suk Suk is far from a device solely dedicated to highlighting discrimination to be idealitistically triumphed over.
If anything, the film is more interested in showing – in heartbreaking detail – exactly why and how it is nigh impossible for some to embrace their identity. The two leads are deterred, not necessarily because of a lack of courage, but because their choices would crumble the family unit that they have dedicated their entire lives to. Through their stories, these underlying factors feel insurmountable even when compared to long-standing structural bigotries. Even so, the film’s most gutpunching aspect is in its vagueness, where it is unclear if what they share is just another from a string of relationships that similarly led nowhere.
That is not to say that Suk Suk is all gloom. From quiet home cooked dinners together to snuck-in loving gazes under society’s watchful eye, the pair share plenty of heartfelt moments, often underscored with a beautiful albeit heavy-handed soundtrack. The film’s overall deft in control is best exemplified by how its intimate scenes are portrayed.
Admittedly, there was a strong sense of visual dissonance for me initially with how they involve Chinese grandfathers. It’s a feeling that I am sure most would share given our go-to, mostly Westernised impressions of a queer.
However, there is just something so hauntingly beautiful about how these scenes are composed, eventually turning them into the emotional core of Suk Suk. The moments are exclusively shared in one of Hong Kong’s gay saunas that, at first, looks dingy and intimidating, but slowly transforms into a breezy, lone piece of the lovers’ world.
These turn into emotional respites that are abundantly felt by the audience whenever the leads are forced back into the outside world. That is not to say that Pak and Hoi are faced with overtly hostile forces – far from it. On the homefront, both have families that, while marred by struggles and drama, are fulfilling and whole; their families are not just lies that were begrudgingly constructed. The only overt challenge comes with the religious views of Hoi’s son, but even then it is implied that the father’s reluctance to embrace his sexuality cuts much deeper.
This religious theme does bloom to become the film’s final, poignant note. Both Pak and Hoi eventually arrive at a pragmatic look at spirituality (and the lack of it), wishing that religion could hold the key to an afterlife where they could live together as themselves – and that no amount of societal changes today, tomorrow or even the decade after can change their present lives.
It’s in the film’s last third where its stylistic choice pays off as well. Their lives are captured like snippets where even the most mundane activities and sceneries are paid attention. Suitably, the pair’s presence in frame are diminished whenever they are in public and only take centre stage in the quiet pockets of society. This forms a gentle pace where poetic moments do occasionally spring but does occasionally lean towards tedium. However, it is exactly this eye that leads to the film’s unforgettable concluding sequence – executed so simply yet disarmingly.
Definitely of note as well is the leading performances of veteran actors Tai-bo and Ben Yuen. While both do not identify as queer off-camera, their relationship on-screen is still lovingly portrayed. Understated grace is, again, the perfect description of their performance, where there are hardly any emotional flare-ups yet every pain, every joy, every fear is still nevertheless felt.
While it may be challenging for its theme and style, Suk Suk is an exceptional drama that hones in on much more than the sexuality and age of its characters to draw out the core, human struggle for belonging. It’s a struggle that both leads ultimately lose, yet the takeaway from the film is hardly of just melancholy. Suk Suk presents a rare concoction of balance between hefty emotions, creating an easily underestimated powerhouse that should not be missed.
Watch the film’s trailer here:
Catch ‘Suk Suk’ over the weekends at Filmgarde Bugis+ – do note that the film is rated R21 for its homosexual content. In the meantime, a lineup of exciting films from the Singapore Chinese Film Festival are still available for streaming rental on Kinolounge.
About the Singapore Chinese Film Festival
Running from 2 to 11 October, the eighth edition of the Singapore Chinese Film Festival will be showcasing 33 films through a mix of physical and online screenings. For the festival’s full schedule and purchase of tickets, visit its official website at scff.sg and follow the festival’s Facebook page for the latest updates, including details of post-screening Q&As.
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