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Cut Sleeve Boys
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by David Cornelius

"When over-the-top becomes insufferable."
2 stars

Rookie writer/director Ray Yeung goes for the broad stroke in his gay-themed dramedy “Cut Sleeve Boys,” but those strokes take him right off the canvas. His movie careens from sappy melodrama to over-the-top comedy and back again without any real sense of rhythm or logic, and the result is terrible soap opera that not even the most ardent admirers of the most high-camp aspects of gay culture will find anything to their liking.

It’s another of those “party boys grow tired of the club scene and try to discover what’s really important in life” stories, but where all the introspection and lessons-learned should be filling up space in the plot, we’re left instead with a hodge-podge of underwritten scenes involving sex-fueled jealousy and tranny jokes.

The hook is that the film follows two Asian homosexuals living it up in London - although aside from a few random moments, there’s barely any discussion on how race factors in with one’s sexual identity, nor is there any real examination of what’s called “London’s gay Chinese community,” a place whose very name suggests a heightened specificity that demands further discussion. What’s it like to be gay, Asian, and in modern-day swinging London? Don’t ask the leads in this movie, because they don’t care about anything like that.

The story kicks off when a swinging gay Asian Londoner dies of a drug overdose while receiving oral sex in the men’s room of a nightclub. It’s a fairly brutal opening scene, a cold, honest look at destructive excess. So why is it immediately followed by a high camp funeral scene that tries to pull crude laughs from having an overwrought female mourner shocked to find herself wearing the same dress as an oversized transvestite?

So goes the whole movie. We get lingering shots of our leading men moping about, assessing their sad lives, and then the whole thing switches gears without warning, tossing us drag queen humor that’s about as limp as it sounds.

Most of the movie is split in two, as we follow close friends Mel (Steven Lim) and Ash (Chowee Leow) as they deal with their friend’s death in different ways. (Although one could argue that the whole dead-friend angle is so underplayed that you could remove it completely and still wind up with the same story of queen angst.) Super-swishy Ash decides the only way he’ll get a man is to go drag, although the screenplay can never quite decide if Ash should be happy in a dress, having found his true calling, or if he should be miserable, disappointed that he can’t just be himself. Super-mopey Mel, meanwhile, frets about aging, dying his graying hair while watching himself turn into yesterday’s model; his view of relationships goes into question when an old friend (Gareth Rhys Davies) arrives and the two become very close while also refusing monogamy.

Our heroes repeatedly sneak viewings of an old home movie they made with their dead friend, which I suppose is meant to remind us that for all the sex and drugs, these guys are still really darn sad.

The title, by the way, is explained to us in an opening title card which retells an old Chinese legend of an emperor who cut off his sleeve so he wouldn’t wake his boy concubine. “Cut sleeve” is a Chinese euphemism for gay, and if that seems a bit too much explanation, just wait until the middle of the movie when the whole introduction is supposed to pay off. You see, Ash finds himself in a similar situation, and he, too, cuts off his sleeve lest he awake his lover.

The problem is, Yeung never decides if this is supposed to be tender, or funny, or what. The connection to the old legend is tacky and forced, a big, annoying nudge to the ribs, Yeung shouting “Get it??” at us. And Ash’s intentions are flawed; he’s trying to sneak away so he can fix his makeup before his lover discovers him with smeared lipstick. (Wouldn’t the lover have seen such smears the night before? You know, during?)

That pretty much sums up the entire picture. “Cut Sleeve Boys” provides the adventures of self-centered twits whose actions are turned slightly so they’re meant to seem noble and introspective. The whole thing’s a colossal mess, with sloppy dialogue, mediocre acting, and choppy direction only enhancing the story’s major flaws, and with ill-conceived comic interludes causing even more stumbles. It’s a poorly made movie about idiots who spend all their time whining about themselves, and there’s not a single moment that makes us want to keep watching.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16866&reviewer=392
originally posted: 11/21/07 12:19:59
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USA
  17-Aug-2007 (NR)
  DVD: 13-Nov-2007

UK
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Australia
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