Lilting: A Review

As a movie based on homosexuality I was looking forward to a revolutionary film about the struggles a mixed-race, homosexual couple face in modern society, especially when it is based around coming out to parents. Going into this film, I thought that I would be witnessing something very moving, which would inspire viewers not to be afraid. Instead, it was anti-climactic and slightly disappointing.

Lilting is a film which is based largely upon the death of a man named Kai, son of Junn and boyfriend of Richard. Kai’s death is a turning point for Richard, and on the day of his death Kai was supposed to come out to his mother. Richard befriended Junn and hired a translator to help with their communication, and the rest of the film was a waiting game. It was clear to viewers that Richard had wanted to Kai to come out from the beginning, but for some reason Kai was afraid to tell his mother because he knew that she did not appreciate Richard. Junn is a very strong woman, however she tends to struggle with cultural appropriation. She has a difficult time adapting to the elements of an English country after coming from somewhere so different. This is a large aspect to her character, as it often causes her to become frustrated at the lack of communication she is able to have with others. At the beginning she is made to seem as a very binary thinking woman, which causes viewers to believe that is the reason why Kai cannot bring himself to tell her the truth about Richard. This is where the film could be considered moving. Junn was unaware of who Richard was when he befriended her, and throughout the movie, we see Richard and Junn develop a solid friendship, where each respect each other equally. This is an interesting aspect of the film because it shows that homosexuals are not lesser than heterosexuals just because they are attracted to the same gender. By taking away the aspect of sexuality, viewers were able to see a deeper connection between two strangers which should never be altered based on an individual’s personal preferences. When Richard finally told Junn about his relationship with her son, her reaction was very calm, however left me, as a viewer, very unsure of whether or not she was okay with the news she was given. The scene was somewhat complicated and unclear and could have been more direct.

Although there is not much focus on Kai in particular, viewers could potentially feel more empathy towards him as his character is a clear form of intersectionality, given that he is both an Asian homosexual man. Both Asian’s and homosexual tend to be looked down upon by parts of society, and this therefore gives his character more of a depth and sympathetic vibe than others. As a viewer it would have been nice to be able to see the ways in which Kai’s mother reacted to his coming out.

However, there is not all bad to say about the movie. The synthesis of emotion and intersectional in this film come together to create something that is moving. It gives viewers a sense of reality, and that there is more to life than the material things. It is also a very moving look into what life is like after the loss of a loved one, and the ways social construction affect different groups of people. In a scene with Junn and her English lover Richard, it is clear how little effort her nursing home puts in towards ensuring her happiness, as there is no one around who speaks the same language as her to help them communicate. Richard has to hire his own translator so she can communicate easier in order to help her enjoy her time in England more. Overall, I believe that although this film was slow and lacking detail and inspiration, it was still very well done and proved to readers that there is still a lot of work to be done in regards to the acceptance of all types of people within society.

The experience I had at the film festival was something that I have never experienced before. Never could I have imagined being surrounded by so many people who were obviously so accepting and understanding of otherwise controversial topics. The audience was a certain crowd that one does not experience every day. The festival was definitely something that I would consider attending again.

– gndsgirl11

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4 thoughts on “Lilting: A Review

  1. Moira

    Hi Gndsgirl – thank you for your post on Lilting! I was wondering – why do you think that the “coming out scene” was directed the way it was? It sounds like it was ambiguous. What do you think this ambiguity was meant to convey in the film? How do you think the mother felt about her son’s sexuality? Were there any indications later in the film that she was accepting, or upset, or relieved, or did the film climax at the coming out scene? I also liked that you touched on intersectionality with respect to Junn’s race and sexuality. I was wondering if you noticed any instances in the film where this intersectionality played out- e.g. were there any times when the result of an interaction would have been different if the characters had been, say, white?

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  2. Rosa Queen

    Hello gndsgirl11,
    I think you bring up great points about the progression of the film in terms of its ambiguity and lack of clarity in terms of the characters emotions. You also bring up the key point of the clashing between eastern and western societal values and norms. Junn, having been from a highly conservative eastern culture, may have inadvertently caused her son to avoid telling her the truth about his sexuality due to his perceived notions on her response. The isolation of Junn also seems to be an interesting aspect of this film, as if the onslaught of westernized ideas is heightened in intensity through her loneliness. What other purposes do you think this isolation served in terms of plot? Also, you mentioned that there was a lot of confusion with the viewers during the scene where Richard finally tells Junn about his relationship with her son. Do you think that perhaps the ambiguity of the “coming out scene” was intentional? As if to further portray Richard’s confusion of Junn’s response in the viewer?
    Overall, I think you bring up great points and I’m looking forward to your next post!

    -Rosa Queen

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  3. Darkling

    Hi gndsgirl11,
    Since two members of our group saw and wrote about this film, it was very interesting to read both reviews and see how wildly your opinions on Lilting varied from one another! It is also interesting to read a review that takes a predominantly negative approach to the film.
    I know you’ve been working very hard to understand some of the course material, and that this review was written prior to our class discussion of why “homosexual” is a pathologizing, binarizing, and dehumanizing term. I still feel that I should point out some instances in your review where your use of the terms was incorrect, just because the point of our work in this class is to learn new things and challenge our preconceived notions. This isn’t an attack in any way, and I hope that I can help you to understand a few things!
    In the first paragraph of your review, you referred to Kai and Richard as a “mixed-race, homosexual couple.” I think what you meant to say here was that they are an “interracial, gay (or queer, or same-gender, depending on how they define themselves in the film) couple.” “Mixed-race” refers to people like me, who are of more than one race, whereas “interracial” refers to a couple that features two or more people of different races, like my parents. Knowing the difference can be really helpful in clarity! Another instance where I think you may have meant something different than what you wrote is when you said that “Junn is a very strong woman, however she tends to struggle with cultural appropriation. She has a difficult time adapting to the elements of an English country after coming from somewhere so different.” That is not the definition of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation refers to when a dominant racial, ethnic, or national group takes elements of a culture that is not theirs without having any understanding of their cultural, religious, or social significance. In our society, that tends to be when white people steal items or practices that hold cultural significance for a marginalized group to fill a cultural or spiritual void, without having an understanding of its importance, or respect for the right of the racialized group to refuse them. What Junn might be experiencing is difficulty assimilating into a white-dominated western culture with which she is not familiar. When people of colour try to adopt elements of white, western culture, it isn’t appropriation, it is assimilation, because they are doing it in an attempt to survive in a society that oppresses them.
    I think that addressing intersectionality in the film is relevant, and it’s good that you pointed it out. The way that you used the term was in the correct context, but could have been integrated into the paragraph more smoothly in order to get your point across. Saying that Kai’s “character is a clear form of intersectionality” is less correct, for example, than saying “as a Cambodian-Chinese gay man, Kai’s identity is intersectional” and then elaborate. Calling Kai an “Asian homosexual man” is also rather dehumanizing, as it denies him his specific identities, both in regard to his race and his sexual orientation. I would also argue that it is not the way in which his oppressions intersect that would give him depth or make him sympathetic, but the way that those identities are explored in the film.
    You said in your review that you found the film to be “anti-climactic and slightly disappointing” because it did not focus on a queer couple coming out to a parent, or explicitly tell viewers how Junn felt about the relationship between her son and Richard. Do you think that our society emphasizes “coming out” as a climactic moment in the lives of all LGBTQIAP+ people, and that this leads to certain tropes in queer cinema that we are taught to expect? Could the focus of the film perhaps have been more on the friendship between Richard and Junn born out of mutual loss than on the reveal of Kai’s and Richard’s relationship? Perhaps the film is subverting audience expectations with its focus and storytelling choices.
    Something you pointed out was how little regard the retirement home in which Junn is living affords her needs or comfort, both as an older person and as a woman of colour who does not speak English. This is a social reality that does not get depicted enough in our media, and I am glad that you noticed it and pointed it out. Does our society disregard the needs of the elderly, and treat them as unwanted? Is this exacerbated for non-English speakers?
    From the sound of it, watching the film at ReelOut was a really revolutionary experience for you. You said that you “[never could have] imagined being surrounded by so many people who were obviously so accepting and understanding of otherwise controversial topics.” Do you think that the lives and identities of LGBTQIAP+ people and people of colour are controversial? I would say that this perception reflects more on our society than on those actual identities and stories. I’m glad you had the chance to watch Lilting at the festival! I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it more, but going to ReelOut is still a wonderful experience! Hopefully if you go again next year, you’ll get to see films that you enjoy!

    -Darkling

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  4. Elin

    Hi gndsgirl11,

    I found your review of Lilting to be quite refreshing and utterly honest, as you presented a candid interpretation of your thoughts and feelings towards the film. I found of particular interest, your analysis of the cultural appropriation/assimilation that Junn experienced while at her nursing home, particularly in reference to whose ownness it was to ensure that she, as an immigrant, had a way and medium to communicate across. I thought that by providing this poignant example in your review of the film, you skillfully raised the issue of cultural assimilation and showcased the prominence and detrimental role it has in many individuals everyday lives. Throughout your entire piece, there was a pervading and underlying tone of displeasure on how the film went about addressing the nature of Kai’s and Richard’s relationship, in regard its’ depiction to Junn following Kai’s death – do you feel that the film should have had Richard inform Junn of his and Kai’s relationship at the beginning of the movie, and the focus then be on the two of them grappling with that instead? That being said, do you think that perhaps the film was mismarketed to some degree, and rather was a film that was truly about how people grapple with loss and death?

    ~Elin.

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