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Review of Feeding Boys, Ayaya.
Directed by Cui Zi'en
(87 min./China, 2003)
Cui Zi'en is a professor at the Beijing Film Academy, and the only openly queer activist academe in China, in addition to being a novelist, director, and actor. Zi'en has stated that film must work with new forms to embody new attitudes toward homosexuality, and is interested in "testing the flexibility" of reality.
Feeding Boys does not develop its story in traditionally chronological narrative form. It centers around three brothers. The eldest, Dabin, is a Christian, and attempts to persuade his younger brother, Xia Bao, to give up his work when he decides to become a male prostitute, or money boy. When Xia Bao leaves the house, the youngest, Houjian, decides to follow in his line of work.
Zi'en adopts strategies to disrupt the narrative, and to empty images of the meanings. Continuity, and realism, is interrupted or diverted by long shots on a bridge, where the characters hypnotically perform tai-chi, or walk a dog. In these havens outside of the story, Zi'en indicates his position outside the driving forces of the commodified narrative. A lo-fi approach informs the entire movie, which is shot on digital video: the electronic music on the soundtrack cracks and hisses, the camera work is shaky and handheld, the cameramen ignore white balance.
The title, Feeding Boys, comes from the theory that Houjian lays out to his older brother: humans are mammals. A woman comes into her true nature when she gives milk and nurtures her young. In a comic and superficial argument, Houjian concludes that he is fulfulling his nature as a mammal by nurturing the needy with his milk. It is interesting to note that during this scene, Dabin, who is getting dressed, is cut out of the frame, and we only see his bulging crotch. Whatever the image says, it is humorously at odds with his Christianity. Perhaps it points to Dabin's interchangeability with his younger brother, as an object of desire, or some relation between him and his brother, perhaps to an ambiguous sexuality.
Houjian's decision to become a money boy has a heady quality of liberation at moments. However, coming from a middle class family, he is not forced by circumstances into becoming a prostitute. Arguments against prostitution falter when given the scenario that a businessman can buy you designer clothes and pay you more than you could ever make at a straight job. Houjian's position seems to point to the comfort with mutual exploitation: he tells his friend, Zai Zai, who shows him the ropes, that he is saving his virginity because he can get $10,000 for it. He diversifies his exploitation when he panhandles in his designer clothes later on in the film.
After arguing with his brother, he undergoes a series of assertions of the self. He faces the composer, Zhang Jian, and demands a different piece than the music written for him in the film. He then embarks on a poll of the city, asking passerby what they think of money boys, mostly finding disapproval. In one of the funniest scenes in the movie, Houjian brings a client to his parents' house, to the weak protests of his parents. His mother looks at a picture of an adolescent Houjian, wistfully pointing out that he had large eyes like a movie star. One can't help but note that to his mother, it is a waste that Houjian is not selling himself through more refined channels, but blatantly selling his body and sex.
We see Dabin in empty locales, standing like a street preacher and giving impotent arguments against prostitution. He dies while asking his girlfriend Wen Wen to save his brother and all male prostitutes. She agrees, and tries to convince Houjian and Zai Zai, his friend. Wen Wen, who is also called Beauty, develops a different relation to Dabin's brother. In another non-progressive sequence, Wen Wen, Houjian and Zai Zai play joyously in a playground. Time is loosed, and there seems to be a moment where the boundaries between actor and person seem to slip. The scene in the playground ends with Beauty lying upon the same deathbed as Dabin. However, despite its recall of Dabin's death, she is not dead. Houjian and Zai Zai sit at the bedside trying to revive her, and acknowledge her sacrifice in trying to save them. Zai Zai sings a poignant song about a cart pusher, who pedals and pedals for passengers while time passes.
Houjian's self-assertions seem to find their limit here. However, Zi'en's analysis of the situation is extended beyond this scene. He is filming a counterpart to Feeding Boys, a documentary which records the boys who are forced into their line of work. The film ends with a utopic statement from the composer, reminding us we have felt his invisible presence throughout the film.
Date Posted: 10/27/2003