By N.P. Thompson
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Taiwanese lesbian drama “Drifting Flowers,” written and directed by Zero Chou, isn’t intended to be a horror movie — but it certainly could be.
Chou splices together three different, albeit tenuously related, mini-sagas of desperate characters riled by physical affliction and sexual confusion. In the second and worst of these, called “Lily,” a chipper prologue involving a fresh-faced heterosexual couple on their wedding day yields to a relentlessly fatalistic story of the same duo reuniting after a long separation.
In the beginning of the segment, I liked how Chou cut back and forth in time in order to fuse connections in her jumpy narrative. An emaciated, prematurely old-looking man approaches a sad-faced, brown-eyed woman who’s slunk in a wheelchair.
Her nurse and companions want to know who he is, how he knows Lily. He begins to say, “I … I am,” yet can’t get the words out. Chou drops in another image of the wedding celebration glimpsed earlier — then back to these decrepit figures — so that it’s painfully clear he’s Lily’s husband.
Chou has visual flair, with a good eye for how billowing palm fronds at sunset appear to splinter the screen into tiger stripes; nonetheless, she has penned the kind of pile-it-all-on script that no actor can survive.
As Yen and Lily, Sam Wang and Lu Yi-Ching go through their paces as well as any performers could who are saddled with the following: Yen, who’s HIV-positive, fed up with ineffective cocktail therapy and who can’t stop thinking about the unfaithful male lover he has left, moves back in with Lily as she floats somewhere along the early – to mid-stages of Alzheimer’s. Lily dismisses her caregivers now that Yen’s presence has stirred her from a catatonic state, only to be reduced to tears when he tells her he’s merely passing through. She hides his suitcase; he walks out anyway.
Lily, believing Yen to be her former girlfriend Ocean (her real love), takes to the streets to find him/her and loses her way. Yen, lost in bitter memories of his ex-partner’s young, healthy new boyfriend (he recalls being on a train, catching them in the act), stumbles onto an endless row of posters for “Spider Lilies,” which happens to be Chou’s previous film.
Now I know that “Spider Lilies,” a tale of a tattooed lesbian whose cool-yet-cursed ink design brings doom to her loved ones, was a small indie movie comparatively few viewers have seen. Even so, a gesture like this on the director’s part amounts to shameless self-promotion.
So, we have Lily and Yen separately wandering the streets like zombies as accordion music fills the air. At the point when Yen goes to a police station to file a missing person’s report for Lily, I had figured out what’s so deeply wrong with “Drifting Flowers,” and here it is: This movie takes the most morose possible view of gay life.
It equates being out as a sort of eternal victimhood, a place devoid of either joy or contentment, which isn’t only depressing to endure, it’s a perspective that’s fundamentally dishonest. (I think I’ll just skip the plot twist of Yen agreeing to cross-dress as Ocean.)
Chou fares slightly better in the film’s first third, “Meigo,” wherein a second-grader’s fantasy crush on her older sister’s butch girlfriend results in near catastrophe. The director charts the inevitable feelings of alienation that arise from jealousy, then trashes the psychological truth of the piece by tacking a “happy ending” onto it. Go figure! ♦
“Drifting Flowers” screens this weekend at the 13th Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, on Saturday, Oct. 25, at the King Cat Theatre, 2130 Sixth Ave., Seattle. For more information, visit www.threedollarbillcinema.org.
N.P. Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.