I MISS YOU WHEN I SEE YOU is a marvellous film and my favourite so far of the offerings for Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival.  Sad and soulful and conflicted, it grips the viewer with a combination of empathy for the characters and an instinctive romantic desire for these men to be together.  It is shot with integrity and skill and the storytelling, over its 90 minutes, guides the audience to a fulsome understanding of the forces behind their active choices and their powerlessness over the passive.

Cowardice and self-destruction will roil in the two protagonists who we first see together in the second scene of the film.  At their Hong Kong school, these boys meet in the bathroom to discuss the latest manga because one is bullied and the other is too much of a coward to be seen with him in the open.  Flashbacks to Kevin and Jamie’s school days will inform the men who make up the contemporary story ten years later.  A situation where Jamie has a mercantile friendship with the men who were the boy bullies, a girlfriend and need to visit Kevin.  Kevin had been taken to Australia by his parents and he will return the visit by Jamie and begin a kind of half-life in his native country.

The youth cast of Koon Yuk Wayne and Lo Wing Kin Tom as Kevin and Jamie respectively give sensitive and heartbreakingly repressed performances which thrum with genuine emotions while expressing the sheer delight of being in each other’s male company.  As the older characters, Jun Li brings such grief to Kevin, a performance which is never maudlin despite pathos of this, still lost, man… boy that was.  Bryant Ji-Lok Mak’s Jamie has the same turmoil and weakness as his younger self and his is the burden of change.  Made more difficult by his entanglement with Elaine (Candy Cheung) who walks a fine line between knowing and confronting.

Director Simon Chung (who also wrote the screenplay with Dana Fukazawa) has a coherent vision and an assured technique here.  The narrative is developed with a strong eye to maintaining engagement, the audience’s understanding of their youthful experience building slowly to bleed into judgement and hopes for their future.  A chaste film in the main, the sexual content is only overt once, in a vital expression of casual self-harm, and then considerably less than graphic.  The romanticism of the film is not in the pedestrian nature of their couplings. The filmmaking of I MISS YOU WHEN I SEE YOU impresses with its balance of landscape and intimacy.

The cinematography and lighting is a superb mix of faces framed and flooded with amber and foregrounded white.  In the only actual disagreement scene of the film, the men look out at the rain, bathed in an orange night-time glow while their shirts glare slightly at the bottom of the screen.  In this scene also, the terrific music score,  which is placed with evocative intermittency, is on display as the lengthened piano notes gently chaperone the viewer through the emotional topography and conversations not had.

There are many difficult scenes in the film, times when you want to grab these flawed men and shake some sense into them but equally often we are gripped by the metaphorically mesmerising.  Circles ridden on a bicycle around and around.  And a sexual encounter seen through dirty glass where the camera moves into clarity with the character before returning to the obscurity of feelings.

I MISS YOU WHEN I SEE YOU is a gritty, realistic and emotionally satisfying film of quality and depth.  When you see the film as part of Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival be sure to stay for the credits to see the disclaimer from the Hong Kong Development Council.  You can view the official trailer here and see more about the film at the Official Facebook.

Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras FF runs February 13-28 and I MISS YOU WHEN I SEE YOU  screens Mon Feb 18 6:30 pm at Event Cinemas George St.