Lan Yu is the first dramatic feature made in China to reference, however briefly, the Tiananmen Square massacre, but on that score it’s an unremarkable, if brave, movie. What’s notable is the sophisticated nonchalance with which it portrays a contemporary gay relationship in a closeted society. In 1988, Chen Handong (Hu Jun), a handsome businessman whose life isn’t so far from that of an American yuppie hedonist, gets drawn into a tender fling with Lan Yu (Liu Ye), an architecture student roughly 10 years his junior.
The affair endures many twists and separations, yet each estrangement only brings the two closer, and the director, Stanley Kwan, swathes them in layers of shadow that make us seek out the light of connection in their faces. ”Lan Yu” is at times too restrained, yet there are moments it captures the erotics of intimacy in a way that makes most American love stories look downright unfree.