Film: From China, With Love

China has only recently gotten around to acknowledging that homosexuality exists, so naturally it has banned the best film made in China about the subject, the gay love story "Lan Yu" (which opens in the United States July 26). Still, the movie is circulating through an "underground" of private screenings throughout China, just as the 1996 novel it is based on, "Beijing Story," had to be published on the Internet with the pen name Beijing Comrade. Even the filming was done surreptitiously: Stanley Kwan, the acclaimed Hong Kong director ("Rouge," "Actress"), shot the movie on the mainland, guerrilla style, keeping one step ahead of the authorities. The frank homoeroticism isn't the only reason the authorities don't like this movie: from its references to the Tiananmen Square massacre to its depiction of corruption among the new Beijing entrepreneurs, "Lan Yu" has a political subtext too close for comfort.

Lan Yu is the name of a young architecture student (Liu Ye) who, in need of money, ends up in the bed of a successful Beijing businessman, Chen Handong (played by prominent stage actor Hu Jun). The boy falls in love with the man, who wants anything but an emotional entanglement. A master of one-upmanship, Chen staves off Lan Yu's affections with more and more expensive gifts--and even, briefly, marries, installing the boy as his lover in a villa he buys for him--only gradually coming to acknowledge, as the years pass, that he can't live without him. It's a wise, moving love story--marred only by a rather arbitrary twist of fate at the end--played out with an emotional honesty that would be unusual and adventurous in any language.