Some movies hit you hardest in places you never expect. Suk Suk (2019) – also known as Twilight’s Kiss – is one such film.
In today’s world where homophobic and transphobic bullying, coming out and marriage equality have become common topics in many parts of gay Asia, the Hong Kong that the film’s two protagonists, Pak (70) and Hoi (65), inhibit could very well be a different planet. It’s an all-too-familiar world that most younger Asian gays prefer to keep separate from their private lives if not abandon it altogether.
In this world, family bonds, duties, and sacrifice outweigh all individual happiness combined, and every son and daughter are expected to get married and propagate the family line. These unwritten rules are what makes Asian LGBT reality vastly different from that of our Western peer.
Inspired by Travis Kwong’s book Oral Histories of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong, director Ray Yeung here sensitively paints a story of two “uncles” (“suk” means uncle in Cantonese) who found each other in the twilight of their lives. Having become grandfathers, they belong to a lost generation who, too busy working to ensure a good life for their families, never had the chance to fully live their own.
Now that they are able to, they instead feel at a loss. However, issues such as marriage equality are the farthest things from their minds. Even the idea of a public nursing home for gays, proposed by young LGBT activists, sounds alien to them. As the gay rights movement and online revolution pass them by, the only tantalizing pleasure they experience, however fleeting, can only be found in public parks and toilets.
For Pak and Hoi, finding a first love after decades of loveless marriage and widowed loneliness was both a blessing and a curse. Despite all the intimacy and comfort they found in each other, they cannot reveal their relationship to anyone for fear of destroying the very family that they spent their whole lives building. Although they stole moments to enjoy small couple-like things like grocery shopping together, the only place where they can have privacy is at the bathhouse and the complete strangers found in it are the only one with whom they can be open about their relationship without being judged.
At the wedding banquet of Pak’s daughter, we feel that the reason Pak happily paid for the celebration on behalf of his financially struggling son-in-law – whom his wife objects – was his secret wish for his daughter to have a happy loving marriage that he could never have. Perhaps the only one who understood his true feeling was Hoi who, introduced as old friend, was watching across the room with sadness in his eyes. The whole scene at the banquet when they pretend to be just friends in front of Pak’s family brings back the memory of the more comedic Ang Lee’s Wedding Banquet (1993).
Toward the end of the film, Pak and Hoi sat on a bench looking across the sea separating Hong Kong and Kowloon. Pak told Hoi about a childhood friend who drowned in the channel while they swam from China together. As the internal landscapes of the two lovers are metaphorically fleshed out on the screen, Pak looks on as though wondering whether he will manage to cross the gulf between them or drown to the bottom of the sea by the agonizing weight of this difficult decision that he is about to make …
After the film ended and the credits rolled, I walked out of the cinema feeling like having been punched in the gut. Not that I imagined finding myself in the same situation as Pak and Hoi. Our generation has been lucky to have seen the walls of homophobia fall around us.
Rather, the film made me realize how little we know about the history of LGBT struggles in our own backyard and how little documented it is. Most of us probably know a lot more about Stonewall riot than gay life in our own country just fifty years ago.
Above all, it dawned on me how little I know about the internal lives of my own parents who, like most Asian parents, performed their familial duties until the thankless task was done without ever talk about their emotions. It’s painful to think that I never thought about the sacrifices that they must have made. Like when Pak’s son told him to enjoy life while he still could, I want to tell mine, “Find your happiness, whatever it may be…. “
Not just a love story of two elderly gay men, Suk Suk is a bittersweet reminder of the family we love and the price we pay. Catch it wherever you can.