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THE QUEERTY INTERVIEW

“Lilting” Might Be The Year’s Most Exquisite Queer Film

unnamed-1

Andrew Leung, Ben Whishaw

Director Hong Khauo’s 2011 short film, Spring exposed Sundance audiences to the S/M relationship of a 20-year-old submissive trainee and the dominate daddy he seeks out to whip him into shape. Khaou continues to explore complex relationships in his exquisite new feature film, Lilting (which screens at Outfest July 16). Starring out British thespian Ben Whishaw and set in contemporary London, the film follows a Cambodian Chinese mother (Asian action film icon Pei-pei Cheng) as she mourns the untimely death of her son, Kai. Retreating to the comfort of nostalgic memories, her world is suddenly disrupted when Kai’s roommate, Richard visits. Consumed with grief and the memories of his loving relationship with Kai, Richard struggles with the decision to share the truth with her. Unable to communicate through a common language Richard employs a translator and they begin to piece together memories of a man they both loved. Hong Khauo chatted with Queerty about his inspiration for his film and mothers who struggle to accept that their sons are gay.

 

Hong Khauo, Pei-pei Cheng

Hong Khauo, Pei-pei Cheng

Where did the initial idea for Lilting come from?

The idea came from within really. I’m bi-lingual and as an immigrant family, my brothers and sister have assimilated whereas it was harder for my mother. It started there as a premise, imagined and reimagined how she would cope if her lifeline was removed. 

Lilting is an unconventional title. How did you choose that title and how does the word “lilting” best represent the story of the film?

I love the word, it sounds like it could be onomatopoeic. It means a lyrical, rhythmically movement. The film contains all these ‘Lilting’ qualities such as music, dance, languages and songs, the way the camera moves between the past and the present. I wanted a poetic interpretation.

unnamedThe film is unlike any other I’ve seen in story and structure. Ostensibly it’s a drama but the story unravels almost like a mystery. Was that intentional?

It was entirely intentional. I like the way you phrase it as a mystery. It was always going to be a quiet film, with the small details resonating deeply. The strength of the film comes from those personal moments that will hopefully chime with you.

Ben Whishaw gives a wonderfully restrained and grounded performance as the grieving boyfriend, Richard. How did he come on board?

I’m such a fan of his work. We approached him with the script. He liked it and said yes. I still can’t quiet believe it. His performances was incredible wasn’t it? Full of vulnerability and strength.

unnamed-1There are three themes that stuck out to me: Grief, jealousy and the almost desperate need to cling to memories. What were the specific themes you wanted to explore?

Communication and grief were the themes, and as they reverberate it touches on other subjects such as memory, the immigrant experience, inter- cultural and inter-generational issues.

For many, the thought of a man in his 30s coming out to his mother in 2014 doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  Is it a more complex issue within the Asian community?

I think coming out is still a big deal regardless of cultures and countries. It’s the internal struggle we have. It’s certainly easier now; you only have to see the recent events in America with It Gets Better campaign.

Why is Kai was struggling with that decision so much? Is it because his mother is culturally traditional or because his partner is white?

The struggle is the same struggle we all have, the fear of disappointing our parents and the sense of shame. It’s not cultural or traditions, but of course they certainly play their roles.

unnamedI hate to boil it down to a cliché but, the saying “The truth shall set you free.” really does apply here. Doesn’t Junn need to hear the truth about Richards’s relationship with her son almost as much as he needs to tell her?

Absolutely. They both needed to hear that. They’ve been dancing around it and it needed to pour out. It certainly feels like they both needed to talk.

How do you grieve a partner when you aren’t even allowed to acknowledge he was your partner? Is that the real reason Richard continues to visit Junn?

Richard visiting Junn has more to do with the guilt that he carries, transferred from Kai. And in his grieving process he visits Junn and is so taken by her situation he decides to help her, hoping this will bridge their difficult relationship.  And of course as things start unraveling, he gets deeper into it. I don’t know if it helps to give a concrete reason, we do very odd things when we’re grieving for a loved one.

There is a sense of desperation about all three characters. Kai struggles to do the right thing for both his mother and partner. Richard to do right by Kai after his death yet he can’t be entirely honest about their relationship. And Kai’s mother, Junn who needs constant reassurance from her son that she is important.

I’m glad you’ve picked that up. I spent a lot of time thinking on these small details, how we have similarities and differences. How painfully sad it was they didn’t talk. If only they would have talked.

In a climatic confrontation Junn says, “You’ve taken away my family and now I’m stuck in this awful place.” I feel like Richard could have said same line to her… they both feel so lost without Kai in their life.

Absolutely. They are both very different people and yet they share this deep love for the same man. And with Vann communicating for them, they were able to find some peace. I wanted to show these juxtapositions in the film.  

Lilting premiered at Sundance. It recently won the First Feature Film-Honorable Mention at Frameline and is screening this week at OutFest. What’s next for you?

I’m working on a script called Monsoon that has been through the Sundance screenwriters Lab. I’m off to Vietnam for two months to finish the draft.

 

Watch the Lilting trailer below.

Heath Daniels is a writer, producer and filmmaker.

By:           HEATH DANIELS
On:           Jul 15, 2014
Tagged: , , , ,
  • 9 Comments
    • Faulk
      Faulk

      Seems quite interesting, need to see it :).

      Jul 15, 2014 at 4:59 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Maximiliano5458
      Maximiliano5458

      I love the theme and the acknowledgement of two strangers that have a common bond, the love for a man, which life has been lost. We need more and more this type of educational movie that portrait the real human capabilities.

      Jul 15, 2014 at 7:14 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Billy Budd
      Billy Budd

      This movie reminds me of “Yossi and Jaegger”, the Israeli lgbt movie that has a scene between a dead son’s lover and his mother.

      I must add that I love Ben Whishaw.

      Jul 15, 2014 at 10:16 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • dennisjlee
      dennisjlee

      I saw this at Sundance. I would recommend seeing it.

      Jul 16, 2014 at 2:40 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Lefty
      Lefty

      I’ve been looking forward to seeing this so much.
      Love Ben Whishaw!

      Jul 16, 2014 at 4:30 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Andreusz
      Andreusz

      Looks good, but could we, just for once, have a gay movie where none of the gay characters dies?

      Jul 16, 2014 at 5:31 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • drivendervish
      drivendervish

      Is this story really that different from Philomena which came out last year starring Judy Dench?

      Jul 16, 2014 at 12:34 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • SteveDenver
      SteveDenver

      I’m there for opening night!

      Before I realized it, I owned three movies on DVD starring Ben Whishaw. I own fewer than 30 DVDs.

      Friends who haven’t seen PERFUME get to see it at my house. Nobody has complained and several now recommend it.

      BRIGHT STAR is one of my most loved films based on the final years of poet John Keats’ life, it’s beauty and tragedy as envisioned by film genius Jane Campion. He is splendid and heartwrenching in it.

      Then I checked out MY BROTHER TOM from the library and his vulnerable, pained and complex performance is remarkable for a young actor — he was 20 when the film was made.

      I’m so happy that coming out hasn’t made him cautious or hesitant. He liked the script, he’s doing the film. I’m going to watch the trailer a few more times.

      Jul 16, 2014 at 3:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • retropian
      retropian

      @Billy Budd: I thought of that too. It’s a scene in the fairly recent sequel to Yossi and Jaegger; Yossi, where he reveals to Jaeggers parents, 10 yrs later, the truth of his and Jaeggers relationship. They wouldn’t accept it. And big yes to loving Ben Whishaw!

      Jul 16, 2014 at 10:06 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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