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MONEYBOYS (2021, TVN) – 6.5/10

Prostitution is not without a devil the oldest profession in the world, and apart from members of the fairer sex, many men have also tried their hand at this “profession”, since people roamed the globe. “Male whore” is probably the only title more notorious than “female whore”, and this is exactly the path the main protagonist of this stylized Taiwanese romantic drama premiered in the Different View section of the Cannes festival will take. It was “Moneboys” and the first feature film for writer-director CB Yi, and the young hero Fei had just started working as a gigolo in a city in southern China even though the film was made in a Taiwanese production.

He arrived there from the village, and he still sends money to his family, who don’t complain much when the money needs to be collected, but when the neighbors start asking about his lifestyle, it’s a different story. Fei’s role model is a slightly older and more experienced young man, Xialoai, who has been in the business for some time, and the first part of the film actually ends with a shocking, brutal beating of Fei’s lover while trying to protect him. Fei will then return home to the village, to an islet that can only be reached by ferry, to say goodbye to his grandfather who died, and then he will finally break up with his family when they start asking him questions about what he does for a living.

This will also mean Fei’s return to the trade he has already learned, and a slightly younger Long from his village will follow him. Soon, Fei will become for Long what Xiaolai represented to him, and the situation will be further complicated when Xiaolai appears in Fei’s life. “Moneyboys” was also a solid social drama because we understand what made Fei look at it from the village and what kind of destined life it was where he couldn’t be who he really is. For him, the decision whether to work 16 hours a day in a factory or hang out with strangers for much more money, but also to live in eternal hiding not only from the prejudices and contempt of the environment, but also from the police, was not difficult at all. It was one of those highly aestheticized films shot with style and measure, with the quality camera of the Frenchman Jean-Louis Vialard, which manages to further bring the protagonist’s emotions, thoughts and what drives him closer. It is a rather slow-paced film that tries to deal with not only homosexuality in modern China, but also male prostitution in an empathetic and humanistic way.

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