A SILK LETTER (Kang Sangwoo). 54 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 1) at the Carlton. For times, see listing. Rating: NN
Two short films on forbidden gay Asian love attempt to heat up the Carlton this week. Alas, neither generates much friction.
At just under an hour, Kang Sangwoo's A Silk Letter is a moody art film about Sungwoon (Seong Hojun), a young Korean man who burns his draft notice for mandatory army service. Living in a nondescript Seoul apartment with his unnamed and unhappy boyfriend (Choi Jinhwan), Sungwoon drifts through life, taking the occasional frenzied walk to burn off existential angst.
Kang's extended shots of sleeping faces or snails symbolically inching their way across a road (I'm not kidding) test your patience, while the clanging soundtrack unsubtly hints that there's tension beneath the placid surface.
The title apparently refers to a letter penned by a 19th-century Korean-Catholic martyr, but Kang provides no context for it, so the detail is lost on most Western viewers.
Cuong Ngo's 16-minute The Golden Pin won the best Canadian short film prize a couple of years ago at Toronto's Inside Out. I wasn't impressed with it then, and I'm still not.
The woefully earnest culture clash pic concerns a handsome young Vietnamese-Canadian swimmer (Kris Duangphung) who, despite his relationship with hunky teammate Ryan (Ben Bela Böhm), has agreed to marry his friend Vanessa (Lily Nguyen) to carry on his family line and please his traditional immigrant parents.
When the lush soundtrack isn't drowning the film in sentiment, or the ludicrous voice-over isn't inducing laughs, there's a bizarre mix of acting styles, particularly in the climactic scene between mother (Minh Ngoc Nguyen), chewing the scenery, and expressionless son.
But the film, partially shot at Hart House, looks decent, and there's the occasional gratuitous shot of Speedo-clad swimmers. Which counts for something.