Moneyboys is a visually stunning, empathetic portrait of a relationship through the ages. It takes on more than one difficult topic, and never feels egregious or overly pointed. Rather, the subject matter is handled with delicacy and sensitivity, with a dose of reality. This is a rare enough feat. Grounded with compelling performances, Moneyboys was a highlight of the 2022 Inside Out Festival.
Moneyboys tells the story of Fei (Kai Ko), a hustler who works to provide for his family. When he connects with Long (Yufan Bai), Fei seems to be at the beginning of a new life. However, Fei re-connects with a love from his youth, Xaolai (J.C. Lin), he must confront his past in a tangible and often heartbreaking way. Moneyboys is ultimately a story of the past never being far from the present moment.
For starters, the performances are what make this movie. Although the actions of the main characters may not always be super sympathetic. And yet, in a way, they’re all incredibly relatable. They’re unvarnished glimpses into real life. Their journeys are fascinating, and completely understandable. It’s a testament to how well the characters are constructed that they remain sympathetic even when their actions may not be.
On that note, the relationships shown throughout the movie are captivating. There’s plenty of drama, without feeling garish. The push and pull of the past and present are captured in each of these relationships. The pain and very real harm repression causes is evident. So too, is the hope for a fresh start. Moneyboys never reverts to stereotypes of men who marry women when they’re not able to be open about their sexuality. It’s a trope too many stories fall into.
Moneyboys handles the realities of sex work with incredible nuance and sensitivity. The danger that these workers are exposed to by state police is jarring to see on-screen, and yet an important reminder that police are not friends to this community. Moneyboys also takes great pains to emphasize the real harm and danger that sex workers are exposed to everyday. It’s a sad reality that needs to be confronted with new solutions. One of the most poignant moments comes when an older client candidly confides that he has never had the opportunity to be open about who he is.
Relatedly, Moneyboys is also a portrait of the LGBTQ+ community in China. Again, it never devolves into Western stereotypes. Rather, the movie presents an honest conversation about where China is now, and where it can go from here. It’s a reminder of why we need storytellers from diverse backgrounds to tell these kinds of stories with any authenticity.
Finally, Moneyboys is a visually stunning piece. Each frame uses colour so effectively. It’s an enchanting journey, and it’s difficult to take your eyes off the screen for a moment. The use of space, too, leads to such a distinctive feel that adds to the story so well.
Moneyboys tells a tight, alluring story from beginning to end. The characters just make you want to know more about them. Director C.B. Yi’s talent as a filmmaker is evident. These are the types of enriching narratives we so desperately need right now. Moneyboys is a mix of longing, melancholy, and the hope for a better future in spite of the present.
Moneyboys had its Canadian premiere at the 2022 Inside Out Festival.