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LAN YU * * *

CAST: Hu Jun, Liu Ye, Su Jinl, LI Huatong, Lu Faang, Zhhang Yongning, LI Shuang, Zhao Minfen

DIRECTOR: Stanley Kwan

His name is Chen Handong, he's handsome and wealthy, and he's just this side of middle age. Noted for his business acumen, this man-about-Beijing is also said to have a way with the ladies. In truth, he is having his way with Lan Yu, a soulful-eyed male student from the provinces who has turned to prostitution. Their affair, intended to be no more than a one-night stand, erupts into a love that is true, turbulent and exceedingly risky.

Does this sound like an old-fashioned, sentimental soap? In a way, that's truly what it is--despite a dollop of full-frontal nudity, some sexy dialogue, and vigorously simulated lovemaking. But it is also a rich cinematic experience that is rare, involving and uncategorizable. Under the subtly passionate direction of Stanley Kwan, this adroitly structured, lovingly photographed tale of a secret sybarite and his innocent but bold boy-toy--acted with disarming candor by Hu Jun and Liu Ye--provides remarkable stopovers on its journey to a beautiful, unsparingly honest conclusion.

Not every twist of plot is believable. Midway in the film, Chen Handong marries a gorgeous colleague after briefly courting her in an almost laughably mechanical fashion. Much more believable is the couple's swift, cut-your-losses divorce. And when you learn that Handong is suddenly facing the threat of a death sentence for his corporate cheating, you can't help but say "Huh?" In the end, however, you're likely to take such incongruities in stride, because you'll be rooting for these self-liberated lovers who dare to live their lives openly and lovingly for as long as society and fate will allow.