Berlin: Ray Yeung’s LGBT Bereavement Tale ‘All Shall Be Well’ Tests the Limits What Is Acceptable in Hong Kong Today

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Boasting a track-record of finely observed and touching films with LGBT themes, Hong Kong director Ray Yeung is back at the Berlin Film Festival after a previous appearance with “Suk Suk” (aka “Twilight’s Kiss” in some markets). It launches in the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section and is eligible for the Teddy Award.

Hong Kong society can be tolerant, conservative and pragmatic all at the same time. But, as a place where the pressure is always on, things can snap out of joint quickly. Yeung’s new film, “All Shall Be Well” describes the unravelling of previously-assumed familial relations following the death of one half of a lesbian couple.

Variety spoke to Yeung on the eve of the festival.

The English title of the film changed from ‘Today.. Tomorrow’ to ‘All Shall Be Well.’ What does that reflect?

The Chinese title has constant been throughout. The decision on a final English title came from re-reading my notes. When I interviewed a lot of the long-term LGBT couples in Hong Kong, I found that many hadn’t make a will, nor got married overseas. They’d just been together for a long time. There was no written will or planning. And when I asked why, many said that their family or sister or another person in the family knew what they wanted, and therefore, there was no need to plan anything. ‘If I do pass away, my sister would know my wishes,’ seemed to be common.

I thought that was very optimistic. It completely puts the decision on the sister and it puts the long-term partner at risk. She’ll be completely at the mercy of this other person, who may be close to you now. But you never know what might happen.

It was very common state of mind amongst a lot of these couples. ‘Everything’s gonna be fine. All shall be well.’ So, yes, it is a very ironic title.

Without getting into spoilers, how much of a happy end does your film permit?

How much of a happy end can you expect in Hong Kong, where LGBT relationships are not well protected. Not everything is ever going to be resolved, but it’s about how you can resolve things within yourself. I think that is what the story is about.

Is this story particular to Hong Kong?

Yeah, I think the themes in this film are particularly highlighted in a place like Hong Kong, because property prices are out of reach for most people. For regular income people, the chance of getting a decent apartment is quite remote, especially for the younger generations. So, if suddenly a decent apartment falls into your lap, what would you do? Would you give it away? To somebody you maybe consider as a stranger.

Would the obligations be different in the case of a heterosexual couple, which society is more accepting of?

Remember, an LGBT relationship is not seen as a proper relationship in traditional Chinese culture, and is not legally protected,

Therefore it’s easier to for the relatives to kick that LGBT person out. Because in the mind of society, they were never really a proper couple. They’re more like a boyfriend or a girlfriend, always seen as temporary. Even if it had been a relationship lasting for decades.

A lot of times, [the blood relatives] may have felt that they were doing something slightly wrong, but [the lack of legal protection] provides an excuse.

How much of this is a lesbian story? Or could it easily have been a gay male story?

Yes, it could be a gay male story. The only difference is that a lot of long term gay male couples are even more secretive. It is even harder for gay men to be accepted in Hong Kong society. But for two women, they are invited to family events, weddings and even Chinese New Year and everybody sees them as something like ‘sister’s best friend.’

My story is more about the relationship between the lesbian couple and the deceased’s family. It’s not really about coming out, because they’ve already been accepted. But how deep is that acceptance?

They were accepted like sisters when the family member was there, but once when that person passed away, that acceptance is immediately stripped away.

Is it a story about age, like ‘Suk Suk’?

Only in the sense that I’m talking about a long-term relationship. It is much more about the meaning of a family.

How long did this film take to come together?

We were supposed to shoot the year before COVID. That delayed it for six to nine months.

Also at the beginning, we applied for the Hong Kong film fund. For the longest time, we didn’t hear from them. After two years of not hearing back, we decided to go ahead and got funding together ourselves. We had also approached a couple of investors, but they stopped signing documents. We had to start again and ended up with all private money, partly from the sales agent Films Boutique and Hong Kong distributor Golden Scene.

By the time that the Hong Kong film fund eventually told us that we were able to get the grant we had already done everything. We spoke to the investors, and they felt as well, at that late stage, there was really no need. So, we withdrew [from the public grant process].

After that, it was easy?

Casting was much easier this time compared to ‘Suk Suk.’ And, once it was financed, production was relatively straightforward. We finished around August, submitted it to a few festivals and after Berlin accepted it, we’ve been holding out.

It’s very good to be invited back to Berlin. Because Berlin has a market and our sales agent is a German company are good reasons to hold the world premiere here.

Did you have any problems with Hong Kong censorship?

We aim to release it in Hong Kong in May and haven’t submitted it to censorship yet. But I hope there won’t be problems.

I run the Hong Kong LGBT film festival and in the past few years we haven’t have any films sent back with instructions for cuts or been told that things cannot pass. So far, with LGBT issues, all the films were submitted have all been passed.

So, while Hong Kong does not recognize gay marriage, it’s quite tolerant of LGBT themes on screen. And the censorship red line appears to be national security?

It seems like that, yes.

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