When was the last time you saw a steamy love scene (or even a cinematic romance at all) between two men of Asian descent? Director Raymond Yeung confronts this question in his sexy, ambitious comic drama Front Cover, which stars Jake Choi and James Chen as a will-they-or-won’t-they pair whose uncertainties go beyond typical rom-com fears of commitment. Come for the breezy chemistry, stay for the thoughtful exploration of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia via a cross-cultural love affair.
Ryan (Choi) is a burgeoning Manhattan stylist afraid he has hit the “bamboo ceiling” when his boss assigns him to make over Ning (Chen), a pretty-boy Chinese film star about to break out to a global audience. Ryan is a classic “third-culture kid,” caught between the expectations of his immigrant parents and his assimilated identity, and yet he also contends with being a member of an additional outsider culture: the LGBT community.
He and his client charge at each other with their prejudices — Ryan, who rejects his heritage, doesn’t appreciate being chosen for this work simply because he is Asian American, while Ning doesn’t understand how a man could be publicly gay.
Yeung treads a fine line between romantic comedy and queer tragedy — we’re treated to an awkward meet-cute, snappy banter, and a jealous kiss, but also to heartbreaking moments in which Ryan and Ning grapple with how their involvement may hinder their careers.
The best scene: Ryan’s mom (Elizabeth Sung) confesses she and her husband had difficulty accepting their son when he came out to them, and now she regrets letting her dreams obstruct their relationship. It’s a lesson Ning wants to, but ultimately cannot, take to heart.
Directed by Raymond Yeung
Opens August 5, Cinema Village