Liang Fei (Kai Ko) has left the tiny fishing village in which he grew up to make big bucks in the city. In order to support his family, he turns to sex work and becomes a so-called “moneyboy”. His customers are almost exclusively elderly men. The trade is illegal in China, and after an arrest, Fei returns to his home town – only to be cast out, despite his relatives having readily accepted his money without asking too many questions.
Moneyboys is Chinese-Austrian director CB Yi’s feature debut and there is great potential in the themes it explores. The implication that sex among men is more likely to be socially accepted when money changes hands is heartbreaking in its capitalist bent.
Though set in China, the film was shot in Taiwan – native Mandarin speakers have picked up on some inaccuracies regarding accents, but to an international audience, these goofs will not distract or detract from their enjoyment.
This Un Certain Regard entry is visually stunning. The actors’ movements are orchestrated in a harmonious relationship with the moving camera, making for excellent blocking. Yi has found a clear stylistic voice with which to tell this story.
Substancially, the work is not quite so impeccable. The scenes meant to tackle personal growth, such as Fei learning to love himself, are not entirely successful in their endeavour. Both script and enactment are more cerebral than emotional.
The international co-production starts out strong. Leading actor Kai Ko has genuine chemistry with Fei’s initial love interest and while it is a woeful development, their loss of contact is portrayed realistically. Conversely, the progression from brotherly friendship with fledgling Long (Bai Yufan) to a romantic relationship feels somewhat misguided.
Nonetheless, Moneyboys will undoubtedly find a welcoming audience, as non-Western films concerned with issues of the LGBTQIA+ community are still few and far between.
Moneyboys does not have a UK release date set.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.