Dir/scr/prod: Scud. 2010. Hong Kong/China. 97 mins
The third film from experimental Hong Kong filmmaker Scud, Amphetamine is the story of a doomed love affair between a gay man and an emotionally damaged straight man which, while always visually arresting, ultimately rings hollow. The film is certainly flashy – filled throughout with two second flashbacks, dreamlike imagery and fantasy sequences – but its self-conscious artiness dilutes the potential dramatic impact and it plays as more stylistic curio than full-blooded character piece.
Amphetamine has its best shot of profile on the gay and lesbian film festival circuit and its best sales chance is to niche distributors tapping into gay audiences on DVD and TV.
The film had its world premiere in Panorama at the Berlinale this year and is one of the closing night films at this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival. But, peopled as it is by beautiful men in various states of undress and embrace, Amphetamine has its best shot of profile on the gay and lesbian film festival circuit and its best sales chance is to niche distributors tapping into gay audiences on DVD and TV.
The lead character is Kafka (Pang), a fitness instructor who works several jobs to support his ailing mother. Although he has a girlfriend, his sexuality is apparently fluid since he agrees to a hand-job from a dirty old man in a changing room. He and his slacker brother are also amphetamine addicts.
Just as he is breaking up with his girlfriend, he meets handsome finance executive called Daniel (Price), an out gay man from Australia in Hong Kong on business. Daniel falls for Kafka and pursues him confidently, even while Kafka tells him that he is straight and they can never have sex.
But their love for each other grows, despite the hurdles – the sexuality difference and Kafka’s addiction – and the two men become convinced that love will conquer all. Daniel tries to help him off the amphetamine after a close call with the Chinese authorities but he doesn’t know the whole story and Kafka is harbourin dark secrets from his past, which might prove insurmountable.
Scud teamed up with veteran director Lawrnce Ah Mon on the direction of the film and enlisted cinematographer Charlie Lam (Isabella, Exodus) to shoot it. On the one hand, the film’s attempts at visual expressiveness are striking. The visual design is striking - the persistent water or angel motifs, scenes of Kafka’s martial arts routines, the lingering shots of the men’s hard bodies. And the narrative drifts in and out of dream and memory lend a certain druglike quality to it.
On the other hand, Scud’s focus on the superficial is jarring and much of the film doubles as an affluent lifestyle commercial. If they are not racing each other in sports cars and motorbikes or bungee jumping off motorway bridges, the men are splashing handsomely in the pool and gazing at each other’s muscular bodies in the shower afterwards. That’s not to mention Daniel’s limitless wealth which includes stunning Hong Kong penthouse and rooftop Jacuzzi. By showing us these glam trappings at such length and with minimal irony, it appears that Scud himself is seduced by them himself.
Production company: Artwalker Ltd
International sales: Media Luna Films
Director of photography: Charlie Lam
Editor: Heiward Mak (Haloyam)
Music: Yu Yat Yiu
Main cast: Byron Pang, Thomas Price, Winnie Leung, Linda So, Simon Tam