Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

For my final film at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, I am so happy things went out in a metaphorical bang with queer drama, Moneyboys. Filmed on location in Taiwan, this gorgeously-shot movie in Mandarin with English subtitles is a sexually-charged depiction of male prostitution set in China. The subject matter alone would be considered taboo back in China thanks to a government that highly censors LGBT content, and is constantly making headlines as such. Following the viewpoint of an escort allows the movie to capture a unique voice not frequently seen from foreign cinema.

Soft-spoken hustler Fei (Kai Ko) has not been back home since his mother passed away, but he provides a steady income of money for his family. They begin to grow suspicious as to why after all this time Fei does not have a wife, and question how he is really making these funds. With Fei’s grandfather declining in health, he insists that Fei must “find someone who will work hard with you,” whilst the rest of his family is convinced that Fei is a disgrace. They are more than willing to accept whatever money he will provide, but not his lifestyle choices.

With a rift formed between Fei and his family, he nevertheless continues his sex work that consists mostly of getting intimate with “straight” men. A childhood friend from Fei’s village, Long (Bai Yufan), emerges for his attention. Initially, Long joins up as a fellow escort. Long lives more openly about his sexuality than Fei, and craves a traditional relationship. His friendship becomes an overt flirtation as he follows Fei around like a puppy waiting for a treat. Fei is convinced that being open with his sexuality will result in hatred and being ostracized from society.

Why not make it a love triangle? Throw Fei’s ex-boyfriend, Xiaolai (JC Lin), into the equation, who is married but deeply closeted, and Moneyboys easily cranks itself full of enough drama and intrigue to carry it along the finish line. The final act is a tad messy when it comes to closing up the narrative threads and developing a through line, but overall, I really enjoyed this unconventional film depicting gay life in China. For those seeking out only pure happiness, this may not be your jam; however, it is host to adorable motorcycle rides together, karaoke ballads, and explicit depictions of Asian sex. Through Long, Fei learns to be freer, a truer version of himself. Moneyboys takes awhile to establish this thesis; director C.B. Yi develops a gorgeous movie that is not to be missed.

Moneyboys screened at 2022’s Seattle International Film Festival.

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