Nonpareil superstars and Farewell My Concubine adversaries Gong Li and Leslie Cheung have gone sadly missing from the celluloid radar in the last few years, and their absence is made all the more acute by the flaccid, anonymous Fleeing by Night (Strand, opens May 3 at the Quad), essentially a Taiwanese remake of Chen Kaige’s Fifth Generation cornerstone. Set in a Chinese opera house on the eve of the Japanese occupation, this dreadfully earnest inversion of the Concubine love triangle eschews the previous film’s historical panorama and roiling pathos for bug-eyed mugging and gay-niche condescension.
A kewpie schoolgirl (Rene Liu) and a dutiful music student (Lei Huang) are set to marry until the young man catches a glimpse of charismatic Lin Chung (Chao-te Yin) on the local stage; the cellist’s abrupt interest in opera masks a problematic attraction to the wonderboy performer. The opium-fogged backstage milieu provides fleeting louche intrigue, but for the most part, Li-Kong Hsu and Chi Yun’s film sleepwalks undaunted through a thicket of flashbacks within flash-forwards and sudden epistolary outcrops. The hammy extras, however, are wide awake, jabbing enthusiastic fingers at everything from Lin Chung acting alone onstage to a corpse on a bedroom floor.