‘Twilight’s Kiss’ is a moving romance about two gay men in their golden years

Society & Culture

Hong Kong director Ray Yeung's humble, tender story of gay love, set in working-class Hong Kong.

In his three feature-length films, Hong Kong director Ray Yeung (杨曜恺 Yáng Yàokǎi) has explored the conflicts, loves, and identities of queer Chinese men. The lawyer-turned-filmmaker’s debut, Cut Sleeve Boys (2006), was a quirky comedy about two vastly different British Chinese and their experiences in the gay scene of London (“cut sleeves” is a euphemism dating back two millennia). Yeung’s Front Cover (2015), set in the United States, focused on a gay Chinese-American fashion stylist and his relationship with a boorish (and apparently homophobic) mainland actor. For his latest project, Yeung returned home for his first Chinese-language film, Twilight’s Kiss (2019). In this moving romance, Yeung has turned away from the young and educated cosmopolitans of his earlier fare to elderly, working-class Hong Kongers.

We’re first introduced to Pak (Tai Bo 张嘉年 Zhāng Jiānián ), a 70-year-old taxi driver who loves his car almost as much as he does his granddaughter. After a lifetime of hard work, Pak seems like he has it made. He’s married and has his own apartment, and Pak’s son is successful enough that he keeps pressuring his father to retire. But while he’s the typical family man at work and home, Pak leads a secret life, cruising gay bathhouses and parks. It’s in the latter where he meets Hoi (Ben Yuen 袁富华 Yuán Fùhuá), a retired divorcee a few years younger than him. Hoi declines Pak’s offer for a hook-up, preferring to be friends first.

As they spend more time with one another, the men’s friendship blossoms into romance. Hoi introduces Pak to a gay activism group, and when his stern, Catholic son is out of town, invites him over for dinner. The men keep their love entirely separate from their lives at home. Pak is married, after all, and Hoi’s son would never accept his father’s sexuality. The secrecy provides some intrigue and excitement, of course, but it’s clear that their relationship can’t continue like this forever. Pak’s wife Qing begins to suspect that something is amiss, while Hoi is troubled by the thought that he might only be a mistress.

The burden of social expectations is a theme that pops up often in Twilight’s Kiss. Hoi’s activism group, looking to raise money for a gay nursing home, is also skittish when it comes to openly talking about their sexuality. Society might be more tolerant than it was during these men’s youths, but they’re still afraid of being ridiculed by their families and neighbors. Another subplot concerns Pak’s daughter Fang, a thirty-something only now getting married. Fang is pregnant, and her fiance is younger and unemployed, a situation that the old-fashioned Qing finds intolerable. Pak, perhaps seeing something of himself in the shunned couple, is more accepting.

Yeung’s Cut Sleeve Boys could be entertaining, although its cliches and flimsiness kept it from being anything beyond an eccentric curiosity. Front Cover was a strong improvement, but while its characters were better realized, it lacked originality and nuance. With Twilight’s Kiss, Yeung has learned from his prior mistakes to create a movie that’s more subtle and mature. Actors Tai Bo and Ben Yuen deliver their roles with a careful sincerity that gives the movie a believable, down-to-earth tone. For his performance as a transgender singer in Jun Li’s (李骏硕 Lǐ Jùnshuò) Tracey (翠丝 cuì sī) (2018), Yuen won a Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actor, and it’s a pity that he and his co-star were passed over for Best Actor in Twilight’s Kiss.

For a subject that could be waved away as taboo or uncomfortable for some viewers, Twilight’s Kiss is wise to use a quiet approach over a comical or melodramatic one. A perfectly representative moment is when Pak spends the night at Hoi’s. After dinner, there’s a scene where the men are on the couch, silently watching TV. Slowly, the camera begins to zoom onto the couple as Pak moves closer, holds his lover’s face, and kisses him. There’s no need for words; their gestures say everything. It’s moving to see the pair comfortable with themselves during scenes like this, especially when the camera is focused so tightly that we generally only see their faces. At the same time, there’s a sad reminder to this intimacy that their lives outside the frame can’t allow for Hoi and Pak to truly be together.

Twilight’s Kiss originally premiered at the Busan International Film Festival in October 2019, and was released in the United States in February 2021. It’s currently available to rent on Amazon Video and other VOD services.