DVD Review - Voyage

Scud is the stage name of Danny Cheng Wan-Cheung, a 50-year-old Chinese LGBT filmmaker who has directed over a half-dozen films. This is his fifth film, which premiered in 2013. It was released internationally on video in 2014. Breaking Glass Pictures, based in Philadelphia, purchased the North American rights to Scud's films and will be re-releasing them domestically. This film is notable in Scud's catalog because it's his first in the English language. In actuality, the majority of this movie is little to no dialogue, and in fact, the first 20 minutes don't have its characters speak at all, but later, anytime something is said out loud or read, it's done so in English. This film is also notable because it's the first time Scud has set his sights outside Asia.

Last year saw the release of Scud's sixth film, Utopians, which suggests a path for Scud that this film and his previous also intimate. Scud creates queer, erotic drama that fetishes the Asian body, both male and female, but he's particularly fascinated or perhaps worships the nude, Asian male. He walks a fine line where his work could veer into sexploitation territory. I would say that it also skirts the line of someone like David DeCoteau. Yet, there is no campiness here and the gratuitous nudity might not be as gratuitous as it appears.

This movie is essentially a series of short films, focusing on various Asian people. One such person is Lady Red, played by Susan Yam-Yam Shaw, a middle-aged woman and mother in Malaysia who is about to be visited by her adult son, Jayson, played by Jason Poon. Before she sees him, she sees a bus-load of people of various ethnicities, sexes and ages walking in formation near the coast. These people later frolic around Lady Red. The catch is that all these people are naked, even the children, and while it might seem gratuitous, it's not. In a weird way, Scud uses nudity to represent death.

Every time you see a naked person, particularly a full-frontal view of that naked person, it means that person is deceased or is about to be deceased. It's not sexual, which certainly sets this apart from other queer filmmakers, but it also sets this apart from Scud's other works like Utopians, which like the recent works of Alain Guiraudie, are practically pornographic. One might assume the same in the first, short film here.

Byron Pang, a male model who starred in Amphetamine, Scud's third film, also stars here as Yuan, a young student in 1968. Yuan is sent from the city to the countryside of Inner Mongolia to learn and live the ways of a shepherd named Tenger, played by Liu Peng Fei. One night, Yuan wanders out of his tent and finds the shepherd walking nude in the snow. The shepherd is very attractive and Yuan is equally, if not more gorgeous. One could look at this moment with a homoerotic eye, but it's surprisingly not the eye Scud primarily uses.

It's not to say Scud's film doesn't have any homoeroticism. Ryo van Kooten also stars as Ryo, a psychiatrist who takes a boat, a small yacht, and travels to Europe. There, he meets Adrian, played by Adrian Ron Heung, a baseball player and art director who appeared in City Without Baseball, Scud's first film. Immediately, Ryo and Adrian are running around the Netherlands totally nude and carefree. We never see them consummate their relationship, but clearly they have, as the audience basks in the beauty of their bodies and the brief relief from the depressing subject matter that pervades Scud's film until and even after then.

That subject matter includes suicides, as well as mothers losing their sons. There is a slight, supernatural aspect to this film, as Scud flirts with the idea of ghosts and spirits. The idea at times stems from Chinese myths to the Aboriginal Australian ones, but it's merely flirtations. The idea doesn't take up the kind of conscious space, as it does in something like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) or Personal Shopper (2017). If anything, the idea is meant to reinforce perhaps a sense of faith in Scud or a belief in an afterlife that he may or may not have.

Scud concerns himself more with the subject matter of suicides. Yet, in a lot of scenes here, there is a question of the violence and who is perpetrating it. An early section suggests a mass suicide, but perhaps it wasn't. Every life taken is either self-inflicted or accidental. However, the ending presents a malicious act, an extreme act of violence that under-cuts what was supposed to be a literal, sunset ending, that of two men walking off into the oceanic horizon hand-in-hand, or perhaps it wasn't. I didn't know what to make of it, but it didn't fully detract from the thought-provoking nature here and Scud's gorgeous vistas.

Not Rated but contains full-frontal, male nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.

Available on DVD/VOD on February 20.


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