December 26, 2011

Rainbow Eyes: A Gay Thriller That's Not Gay Soon Enough or Thrilling Long Enough

I've seen a number of great thrillers this year, which puts Rainbow Eyes at a disadvantage. For while it's gorgeously photographed, energetically edited and possessed of a sensationalistic storyline that starts off with the murder of a gym owner (who may or may not have been gay), Rainbow Eyes falls short of the high-wire tension that ultimately makes a great thriller so thrilling to watch. It's just good! Part of the problem is the way the gay subject matter is handled. While much is made of the secret sex lives of some characters early on, Rainbow Eyes initially feels a little shy of peeking behind closed doors, even as it flashes every dirty detail it can of the actual crime scene. So while the quick slicing of fingers off a hand will make you gasp, the constant repetition of "Is he or isn't he?" will leave you exasperated. Rainbow Eyes would be a hell of a lot better off stating outright, "He is!" then going for broke with gratuitous displays of homoerotic antics in the locker rooms, steam rooms, and weight rooms. Talk about a series of lost opportunities!

Although prudishness ultimately gives way to salaciousness (thank God!), the shift is shockingly quick. It's like we go from a murder mystery about closet cases in a secret society to a transgender revenge fantasy acted out against a military backdrop with gay prison rules. Far be it from me to underestimate homophobia in the armed forces or the persecution of the LGBT across many subcultures -- Hey, I've been bashed myself -- but the way Rainbow Eyes relates oppression to sexuality causes me to raise a well-plucked eyebrow. No one really thinks homophobia in the army is caused by closeted gay men who leave their fatigues behind to run queer nightclubs. No one thinks transgendered people pursue sex changes to work out vigilante fantasies either. Racy? Yes, Rainbow Eyes is that! It's campy too with a priceless performance from Oh Ji-yeong as Mi-sook, the nightclub singer who always looks like the cat who swallowed the canary. In its own weird way, as out of touch with reality as Rainbow Eyes may be, it does feel as though it were written by a certain type of gay man who thinks every hot man is a repressed homosexual, every out gay man is a flaming queen, and every sympathetic woman is a fag hag. Naturally, the most beautiful lady in the room is a man in drag with a manicure destined to blow her cover.

But if Chelsea boys are writer-director Yang Yun-ho's intended audience, this movie needs more sweaty exposed flesh at the gym and some humping of the non-heterosexual variety, ideally involving eye candy Kim Kang-woo, who'd look best brooding out of uniform...completely.

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