Set in southern China, a western man (Pierre-Matthieu Vital) is found naked by the side of a river. The police pick him up, but he doesn’t say anything – although it’s not clear whether he can’t or if he’s simply refusing. The doctors can’t work out what’s wrong with him and so decide to transfer him to a mental hospital.
A male nurse takes pity on him though, feeling this man isn’t ‘mad’ and so helps to liberate him from the hospital. Slowly we learn how the man ended up on the riverbank and the dramatic events that took place during his relationship with a young Chinese man.
We don’t often get gay-themed movies from Hong Kong, so it’s always good to see one. However while Speechless is fairly entertaining, it is a little uneven. It starts off quite slow and contemplative, building the mystery of what happened to the voiceless man as we slowly see in flashback what happened to him.
However the mystery is both the film’s strength and its weakness. It creates tension and the movie knows that the revelation needs to be strong enough to warrant the slow build-up. When it comes though, it’s certainly dramatic but also slightly histrionic. You can understand why the man was traumatised, but the high drama doesn’t fully cohere to the quieter and more thoughtful early parts of the movie.
The film has echoes of real life events, such as the Matthew Honeycutt case (which became the film Amnesia: The James Brighton Story), where a man was found naked in a Montreal alley with almost total amnesia, except for the fact that he knew was that he was gay. It also has a hint of Tyler Clementi, a young American college student who killed himself after his sexuality was revealed.
Speechless gets full marks for tone and effort, as well as for the performance of Pierre-Matthieu Vital, who’s manages to create a very sympathetic and complex character even if he isn’t allowed to speak for much of the film. The part of the film dealing with the voiceless man and his evolving relationship with the male nurse works extremely well, it just doesn’t quite fit with the flashbacks.
With Innocent, End Of Love and now Speechless, director Simon Chung is almost becoming the Hong Kong gay film industry all by himself. He’s an interesting helmer who wants to tell complex and entertaining stories, but I can’t help but feel he hasn’t hit a home run yet. He’s definitely one to watch though, as I feel with the right script he could create something truly exceptional.
Overall Verdict: An intriguing and well-made movie that certainly keeps you watching, even if a slightly uneven tone and tendency towards melodrama in the later stages stop it from being as great as it might have been.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac