A study of gay male hustlers in contemporary China, “Feeding Boys, Ayaya” reps the latest sexually explicit, way underground video feature from writer-director Cui Zi’en. Helmer’s third film in 12 months, pic is, like his prior work, less a conventional narrative than a panorama of loosely interconnected characters. And though he works illicitly Cui’s work in general, and “Feeding Boys, Ayaya” in particular, evidences an artistic integrity and freedom of expression absent from the American gay cinema. Sure to be a popular addition to gay and underground fests, pic made its U.S. debut Oct. 15 at UCLA with its maker in attendance.
Starting with a very frank discussion by two characters on the pleasures of being penetrated, “Feeding Boys, Ayaya” crackles with the unabashed sexual frankness that has become Cui’s stock and trade. “Feeding Boys” also contains multiple instances of graphic on-screen sex, but pic is actually at its most interesting in its quieter, less attention-getting moments.
At a time when male prostitution is reportedly on the rise in China, Cui shows a genuine interest in understanding the motivations that lead able young men to sell themselves. And he doesn’t automatically subscribe to the widely-held view of the sex trade as shameful and abhorrent. His film searches and questions, introducing one character who wants to sell his virginity for $10,000 and donate the proceeds to illiterate children, and another who believes that prostitutes are actually of a higher (rather than lower) social class.
Plotline — such as it is –revolves around Dabin, a Christian evangelist determined to reform China’s entire hustler population, including his own younger brother Xiao Bo. When Xiao Bo (who may or may not be the same-named character that appears in Cui’s other films) disappears into the streets of Beijing, Dabin nevertheless continues his mission.
This provides the pretext for Cui’s introduction of a host of hustlers — associates of Xiao Bo’s — including the matter-of-fact Zaizai, who clearly delineates the advantages (lots of money, freedom) and disadvantages (illness, fatigue) of his chosen profession.
There’s also Houjian, who unabashedly brings home a client in full view of his very traditional parents, who in turn helplessly pantomime their displeasure a la the parents in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Yet, despite the openness with which it approaches homosexuality and prostitution, pic’s real interest lies in the drifting, anything-goes lifestyles of the subjects. Cui finds a surprisingly apt metaphor in his subjects’ lives for an entire generation of young people in flux, trying to establish direction in their lives.
Like all of Cui’s work to date, “Feeding Boys, Ayaya” is the product of a fast and cheap shoot, with an attention to coherent storytelling that is so casual it borders on the frustrating. But those who stick with the film may come to appreciate it.
Pic’s title refers to one of Cui’s more eccentric notions, first expressed in “Enter the Clowns,” that even adult human beings need to drink the “milk” of other adult human beings in order to fulfill their destiny as mammals.