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MOVIE REVIEW

Wired for laughs, mired in conflict

'Cut Sleeve Boys' gets stuck moving from comedy to drama in a story of two men trying to find themselves.

August 10, 2007|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Ray Yeung, "Cut Sleeve Boys" follows the misadventures in love and life of a small circle of Asian gay men in contemporary London. Although that sounds like something grounded in a certain specificity, a world with its own particular parameters, the two main characters follow arcs that seem familiar: Melvyn (Steven Lim), the vain party boy who discovers there is more to the world, and Ashley (Chowlee Leow), the shy repressive who learns to open up and accept himself.

An opening card states that an ancient emperor, not wanting to awaken his sleeping male concubine, cut off his sleeve to steal away without disturbing his lover and that, ever since, the term "cut sleeve" has been a Chinese euphemism for gay. As expected, the same thing eventually happens in the film, as a character cuts off his sleeve to depart from an awkward assignation. Encapsulating "Cut Sleeve Boys" in an unintended way, the moment feels strangely like a throw-away, with no added meaning, deeper resonance or even humor.

Yeung sets the movie within an exaggerated, brightly colored comic-strip world, which is frequently at odds with his transitions between lighthearted comedy and more serious-minded drama. As one character says, "There's nothing wrong with being camp. It's part of the gay scene." Fair enough, but the film isn't enough of an all-out extravaganza to qualify as true camp, nor is it thoughtful enough to achieve much more than that. The bones of something more interesting are there -- how people come to mentally and emotionally define themselves and the ways in which they often need to realign those beliefs -- but Yeung can never reconcile his impulses toward humor and human conflict, so things tend to sputter about, feeling disconnected and episodic.

"Cut Sleeve Boys." MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content, drug use and language. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. At Regent Showcase, 614 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. (323) 934-2944.

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