A slick, entertaining melodrama that deals head-on with themes of gay sexuality and homophobia from a film industry not known for its attention to those issues, "A Queer Story" presents a refreshingly optimistic take on the possibility for overcoming prejudice. While it's somewhat overlong and requires a certain degree of indulgence for the sentimental excesses of Hong Kong commercial cinema, this charming relationships comedy-drama peopled by richly sympathetic characters should travel gay film forums and perhaps land limited sales with specialized distribs.
Pressure to marry comes from Law’s father (Siu Chung-kwan) and from Chuen (Christine Ng), a childhood sweetheart from a neighboring village whose tenuous betrothal to Law is colored by the awareness his romantic inclinations may lie elsewhere. Nonetheless, she returns to Hong Kong from an overseas stint and starts demanding a decision.
Around this core dilemma, director and co-writer Shu Kei lays enough incident to keep the average soap chugging along for at least three seasons: Law is dragged by an enraged client to raid the love nest of her errant husband and his male lover in mainland China; while recovering from the ordeal, he accepts the advances of a hustler, and the infidelity later comes back to haunt him, sending Sonny into a jealous spin; the discovery that Law’s aunt (Lam Kin Ming) has a lesbian past turns her son Sam (Tommy Chow) hostile, prompting her to enlist Law as a mediator.
Perhaps the most incisive subplot involves Law’s friend Kim (Fredric Mao), a respected university professor dying of AIDS. Fearing unflattering media attention, Kim’s brothers attempt to shut out his lover (Francis Ng), a celebrated writer, from his funeral. Despite straitlaced Law’s opposition, Sonny tackles the family and accompanies the bereaved man to his partner’s funeral. The idea of the flighty hairdresser being both well-adjusted and militant counters the occasional touch of retrograde stereotypical behavior, such as his amusing revulsion at the female anatomy.
Shu’s deft handling of confrontational scenes provides many warmly enjoyable, often very funny moments: an edgy first encounter between rivals Chuen and Sonny; Chuen’s unexpected visit to Law’s home, finding him and Sonny caked in green mud-masks; Law coming out to his father; a flagrantly cornball attempt at romantic reconciliation in a karaoke bar. Best of all is Chuen’s dignified exit scene, distinguished by the generosity with which Shu views all his characters.
Where the storytelling falls down is in its inability to be concise. The first act in particular is overloaded with digressions, such as a long-winded recap of Law’s childhood that make the central characters and situations slow to come into focus. Editing of a further 20 minutes or so could serve to make the visually tidy pic more commercially viable.
Performances are likable right down the line, especially Chan as the sassy, swaggering Sonny. The actor is a star in Hong Kong thanks to his turns in the teen gangster series “Young and Dangerous,” which is jokingly acknowledged at one point, when Sonny uses those adjectives to describe himself as he angrily confronts Law’s Chinese pickup.