Asian-American Ryan (Jake Choi) is a stylist, struggling to make it up the ranks. He gets an unexpected assignment dressing a top Chinese film star who’s coming to the US for a photoshoot and to raise his US profile. The star, Ning (james Chen), only wants a ‘Chinese’ stylist, which is why Ryan gets the job, even though he’s lived in the US all his life and has somewhat been running from his Asian heritage.
The connection between the two is initially fractious. Ning is spoiled, difficult and entitled, while Ryan is more interested in what the assignment might mean for his career than his client. Things get even worse when Ning realises that Ryan is gay, which causes the star to fire the stylist. Ning is unprepared to deal with someone who doesn’t hide their sexuality or express any shame about it, but it soon becomes clear that his reaction isn’t pure homophobia, as he might have a few secrets of his own.
As Ning and Ryan get closer, the latter begins to realise that perhaps his Asian heritage isn’t something to hide from, while Ning must grapple with the fact that living a gay life would almost certainly end his Chinese movie star dreams.
Front Cover is a relatively simple love story. Plot-wise it doesn’t go to too many places we haven’t seen before. However, it does it with sweetness and charm, and a real interest in the ideas it explores. That includes the fact Asian people are rarely presented as sex symbols in the West, of second-generation immigrant children rejecting the culture their parents came from, and also the power of the cultural conditioning we all experience. However, it’s also keen to suggest the possibility of change, whether its Ryan’s Chinese parents coming to accept they have a gay son despite the ideas of the culture they originated from, or Ryan reassessing the importance of his career. It’s not completely naïve though, showing that sometimes a major change is just too much for someone to make.
Jake Choi and James Chen have pretty good chemistry as the central duo and help to pull the movie through. That’s very handy, as Front Cover has a few structural issues, particularly moving too fast at some points and too slowly at others. It also has a few too many characters that are essentially ciphers, who are used in a slightly lazy way which underlines how dispensable they are (it doesn’t help either that most of these characters are women, who generally get pretty short shrift in the film).
It’s an imperfect movie, but also a rather charming one. Thankfully, it becomes more absorbing as it continues, especially as it’s better at sweetness and romance than it is with the initial conflict between the main duo. Front Cover may not be a film that’s going to set the world on fire, but it possesses a genuine sweetness and interest in its main characters and the issues its exploring. It’s a film that wants to give us hope, as well as acknowledging that hope sometimes isn’t quite enough on its own.
Overall Verdict: Front Cover is a sweet gay romance, with a real interest the clashes between cultures. It may have a few issues, but it’s also pretty charming.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac