mon 15/04/2024

The Last Year of Darkness review - a loving portrait of a Chengdu gay bar | reviews, news & interviews

The Last Year of Darkness review - a loving portrait of a Chengdu gay bar

The Last Year of Darkness review - a loving portrait of a Chengdu gay bar

Disaffected Chinese youth find a safe haven in a venue that is under threat

Yihao lip syncs to David Bowie's 'Life on Mars'Still from The Last Year of Darkness directed by Ben Mullinkosson

Yihao is a disaffected 20 year old living in Chengdu, capital of Sichaun Province. A thriving centre for business and commerce, Chengdu looks like any other modern city. You could mistake it for downtown Chicago except that, apart from the Walmart logo, the signage is in Chinese.

Yihao isn’t interested in making money, though. Having dropped out of school, he performs as a drag queen at Funky Town, a gay bar that welcomes young people who feel alienated from society. But the venue is earmarked for demolition to make way for a new subway station and Ben Mullinkosson’s documentary is a loving portrait of the final months of this hip all-nighter.

Yihao is a brilliant make-up artist. Corseted in black lace and festooned with black balloons, he lip-syncs to David Bowie’s "Life on Mars", his face transformed by dramatic patterns into a demonic persona that makes Ziggie Stardust look boringly suburban (main picture).

At the other extreme, we see Kimberly dressed demurely in a silver evening gown playing the zither, or zheng, for a hushed audience of music lovers. But despite her incredible beauty, supportive boyfriend and success as a traditional musician, she feels like a failure and has even tried to commit suicide. “This struggle I need to overcome myself; it’s my own challenge,” she explains to camera. “It’s like two voices inside yourself.” Meanwhile, as he removes his makeup, a weeping Yihao reveals that he hates performing; it leaves him feeling like “a failed middle school student, a little punk”.Kimberly watches the sunrise with her boyfriendKimberly (pictured above watching the sunrise with her boyfriend) and Yihao are among a group of regulars who spend their nights at Funky Town dancing to pounding Techno beats, smoking, and drowning their sorrows in drink. Since in cities the world over, venues like Funky Town provide a safe haven for young people trying to find their way in life, you would expect The Last Year of Darkness to have universal appeal.

But there’s a problem. Mullinkosson clearly knows and identifies with his subjects so closely that he is unaware of the need to introduce them to us; even to discover the names of the main protagonists – let alone feel concern for them – I had to watch the film twice. And without that kind of rapport, seeing people getting pissed and throwing up grows tedious very quickly, as does listening to cod philosophy and drunken debates about the meaning of life. Consequently, this tribute to a much-loved place remains largely in the realm of a personal project that doesn’t readily translate into essential viewing for anyone else.

Without that rapport, seeing people getting pissed and throwing up grows tedious very quickly

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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