Hong Kong 1973
Directed by Chang Cheh.

Hua Heng (David Chiang) is a poor but sensitive artist who paints billboards by day and canvas by night. He hangs out with his youthful friends, generally wrestling, drinking, bouncing on the trampoline with each other, and wrestling some more. When Tu Jiaji (Alexander Fu Sheng), the unhappy son of a billionaire, pretends to be poor and joins their group, he finds the happiness he has always craved and bonds with Hua Heng. But a rival gang, who by comparison hardly ever touch each other in a friendly manner, threaten to turn Hua Heng's girlfriend, Gao Xin (Lily Li) to prostitution and eventually kidnap the billionaire's son for ransom.

The boys are always laughing, clinging together, and wrestling with each other, but Hua Heng's relationship with his girlfriend is rather stiff. Sure, he rips her top off, but just to do a nude portrait. He doesn't want her to become a prostitute, but she seems pretty resigned to the whole thing, saying at various times, "I knew when I became a bar girl it would lead to this," and "You won't touch me because you know I'll earn more for my first time," and she even goes so far to plead with Hua Heng, "I don't need pity, why won't you just let me become a prostitute?" For his part, Hua Heng seems a bit conflicted. Maybe because he's got a boyfriend, too.

It is impossible to see Hua Heng and Tu Jiaji as anything but a gay couple. Of course, this isn't written into the story -- in the story, they are simply good friends. It is, as always, in the subtext. It is especially in the directing.

Take for example the scene in which the two first meet. Hua Heng is fighting a gang of thugs who tried to bust his best painting. The painting is of his (platonic, so far) girlfriend. He painted it earlier in the movie after stripping her to the waist. She sat there, topless, waiting for him. He went over and made a painting. Anyway, while he is fighting the thugs, he tosses the painting to Jiaji, who gets into a scuffle of his own and breaks the painting over the head of someone else. Hua Heng is angry, but doesn't strike Jiaji. He walks off, Jiaji following him. He walks down several streets. Jiaji slowly catches up until they are walking side by side. Suddenly one notices that most everyone else in the street are couples, holding hands, walking close together. Hua Heng discards the painting and the two become inseparable. The symbolism is a subtle as a brick.

The two live together in Hua Heng's small apartment. Another scene that is hard to interpret any other way comes much later, when their mutual friend Lin Sibao walks in on Jiaji getting dressed. Without looking up, he says, "I thought you were going to see your girlfriend." Then he looks up to see his mistake. There he is, getting dressed, with Hua Heng just leaving.

I am in any case extremely grateful for the homoerotic subtext of FRIENDS. It is a pretty laughable movie, with cookie-cutter characters and an utterly implausible story. The subtext is probably the most entertaining part of the whole thing. That, and a song that played while Hua Heng paints the nude portrait of his girlfriend that sums up the scene:

I just have a little niche to call my own
A small window it has for me to feel free
I have a wee petite someone that I call a lover
A portrait for her I must paint.

An unemployed youth that I am
I'm broke most of the time
But I do have a paint brush
which can let me portray my lover

There is no light in my little room
Only a bright moon I ask for
I hope the moonlight can usher in here my beloved
So I can make a portrait of her.

I'm painting her side
I'm painting her bosom
Her eternal kindness I paint
I try to portray her endless dream.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on October 07, 2005.


I thought this was a very Good movie with David Chiang, Lily Li & Fu Sheng. Living life & growing up in the streets of HK.

Heart felt moments and the true meaning of how far "FRIENDS" will go to help each other when needed.

Posted by: Jennifer at December 5, 2005 08:14 AM

In MY OPINION I felt this was a Great Movie ! David & Lily Li worked magic together in this film.

Posted by: Kim at March 17, 2007 06:55 PM

Very good movie, guess you totally missed it ...

Posted by: Dan at February 1, 2009 02:40 AM
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