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By Phil Hall | August 25, 2007

Ray Yeung’s “Cut Sleeve Boys” is something of a surprise: a gay-oriented feature that is genuinely touching and sincere. Set in London, the film follows a pair of fortysomething British-born Chinese in London who begin to take a new inventory on their lives when a mutual friend suddenly dies of heart failure during an anonymous men’s room rendezvous.

Ash, the more effeminate of the duo, is at wit’s end at trying to find Mr. Right. He’s also having little luck finding Mr. Right Now – a foray into online chat room hook-ups brings about a less-than-studly collection. He decides to experiment in transvestism and gains the attention of a hunky, divorced ex-soldier. But his new flame seems more interested in the concept of being with a woman (even a make-believe one) and doesn’t appear interested in Ash for himself.

Mel, the masculine part of the pair, is less interested in finding a soul mate. However, Todd, a young Welshman who met Mel in a chance encounter follows him home, tries to become a part of Mel’s life. But Mel’s prickly personality and his vanity about aging makes their relationship difficult to sustain.

“Cut Sleeve Boys” is fueled in large part by the wonderful ensemble. Chowlee Leow as Ash and Steven Lim as Mel manage to inject considerable depth into what could have been one-dimensional characters. The men are clearly fragile victims of the gay community’s protocol about youth-obsession (Ash wears a partial hairpiece, Mel dyes his hair and wears clothing that is appropriate for someone 20 years his junior), and their foolishness at trying to hold back the clock inevitably leads to problems. The mistakes they make in trying to retain a sense of perpetual satisfaction betrays the ultimate failure of the maturing process: people who grow old but never grow up.

Supporting the leads in wonderfully vibrant performances are Neil Collie as the former soldier whose infatuation with transvestites leads to a surprising life change, John Ebb-on-Knee Campbell (yes, that’s his name) as a less-than-successful tranny friend of Ash, and Gareth Rhys Davies as Todd. Rhys Davies in particular is wonderful – he offers an aching reality of a young man who is slowly and clumsily finding his way into a seemingly hostile world. His final scene, where he confronts a too-late regretful Mel, is a masterwork of understated acting, offering an emotional triumph without the need for melodramatic emoting.

“Cut Sleeve Boys” will probably not find crossover success with hetero audiences (the male-on-male kissing and simulated oral sex will inevitably raise discomfort), but that’s too bad because it offers pithy observations that are not unique to a particular demographic. Gay audiences can appreciate a movie that doesn’t insult their intelligence (no mean feat in this genre), while straight moviegoers who find the movie could easily mine a few comically-tinged lessons in self-identity.

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