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DRIFT (director/writer/cinematographer: Quentin Lee; editor: Suan Ton Yeo; music: Steven Pranoto; cast: Reggie Lee (Ryan), Greyson Dayne (Joel), Jonathon Roessler (Leo), Desi del Valle (Carrie), Sebastien Guy (Matt), T. Jerram Young (Dane), Michel Choban (Bob); Runtime: 86; rated: NR; producers: Quentin Lee/Bella Yurkovetsky; Margin Films; 2000-Canada/USA)
“This is one powerful film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A gay-theme film involving a love triangle in the life of three earnest and articulate young men, who all handle rejection really well. Though its romantic situations revolve around being gay, it is tuned into the love problems people of all sexual orientations equally face. Love is something that has always puzzled mankind, and more often than not it doesn’t go as smoothly as one wishes. The film’s main protagonist reads Wordsworth for answers. He does so because he believes love is something “in transit,” which is a feeling he shares with the bard. But he will learn that one is still left to discover on their own what it is they desire in a relationship.

“Drift” is the born and raised in Hong Kong, but now based in Los Angeles and Vancouver, indie filmmaker Quentin Lee’s baby. He’s earned the reputation of being the “enfant terrible” of queer cinema in the film festival circuit by getting banned in Japan and by his uncompromising films about relationships. Previously he directed “Flow” (a series of his short films) and co-directed “Shopping for Fangs.” Mr. Lee received a B.A. and an M.A. in English from UC Berkeley and Yale University respectively. He then went to Los Angeles to complete his M.F.A. in Film Directing at UCLA. In Drift he also acts as co-producer, cinematographer, and screenwriter. It’s a lively and perceptive indie made on a shoestring budget–it was financed with a prestigious production grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. It was DV shot guerrilla-style in 12 days around the L.A. area, using the controversial Dogme-style. Therefore, it’s composed mainly of close-up shots and a camera that operates only in broad daylight–no studio lights here. It shows lots of bland shots of Los Angeles — a city photographed as if to show it has no personality. L.A. looks tired and forlorn (even its famous beaches look unappealing), while the lovers remain unfazed by its emptiness and its environmental hazards. Instead, they fight hard to create their own friendly living conditions through their relationships, and seem to have blinkers on as they glide (or drift) through the city and life as only the young at heart can.

The film has a fluidity and natural honesty. Through its superb script, well-conceived direction and expressive actors with unforgettable faces, it richly created a real-life situation and wisely took its own sweet time to dig into the character traits of its three inquisitive protagonists. It brought out from them their raison d’être, and in how many other films can you say the same? Love is the elusive charm that can make one blind to one’s daily horrors, or it could be such a deadly force that it can overwhelm those who are caught in its traps and lead them down a road to suicide. This intelligent film gets itself all worked up about how real people deal with these problems. It is opposed to how Hollywood might picture gays or, for that matter, even how most gay cinematic conventions treat their own. Both find it necessary for some reason to usually water things down in order to fluff off the confrontational issues that this film never backs off from. Thankfully Lee’s sensitive, intelligent and subtle script doesn’t resort to that formulaic method for disposing of those dark and anxiety-driven problems. This is one powerful film. It’s such a relief from a Hollywood type of film, which in its drive to make money its bottom line hardly ever seems to make a film that reflects real-life.

“Drift” answers the difficult question of life and death facing this filmmaker and other struggling artists in a society that has learned how to ignore art for fake art. He ironically asks — what’s the difference between a psychopath and a writer? The answer being that the writer wants his visions to be understood and even though he is probably not capable of committing murder to enact those thoughts he still visualizes the same things psychopaths do. But before it answers that improbable question, the story unfolds about an aspiring twentysomething Asian screenwriter, Ryan (Reggie Lee), living with his devoted boyfriend of three-years, Joel (Greyson Dayne). They are on the eve of celebrating that anniversary. But under the surface of this blissful domesticity, Ryan is feeling uneasy about the romance. It just doesn’t mean as much to him as it once did, while Joel is quite satisfied. The writer seems to have little in common with the more prosaic Joel, except for their need for a secure relationship. Joel works for a gay and lesbian community activist group as a web master, while Ryan tries to peddle his film scripts at night but must work days in a coffee shop to support himself. Ryan is a visitor from Toronto who has no trouble acclimating himself to a transient city like L. A. and, in fact, seemingly enjoys it because it is so distant. But what he yearns for is to find someone who understands him and can be his perfect soulmate. Yet, if he can’t find perfect love, he has been willing to settle for a safe relationship with Joel.

At a party Ryan’s literary agent has thrown, a virgin 20-year-old college student, Leo (Jonathon Roessler), who aspires to be a novelist, engages Ryan in an animated conversation and gets the out-of-place Joel jealous enough to leave them alone. They talk incessantly for an hour about their love of horror films and their connection with serial killers, as they both feel viscerally in tune with the other and have really hit it off as fellow artists. As hard as it is for him to do, the gentle and well-meaning Ryan breaks off the relationship with Joel despite the bad timing of that decision — which comes at the same time as their upcoming anniversary. He then must lean on the shoulder of his straight lady college friend from Berkeley, Carrie (Desi del Valle), for consolation and understanding. His other confidante is a straight male, Matt (Sebastien Guy), who not only offers him his apartment and shoulder to cry on — but true friendship. In the sitcom world it’s usually the gay person offering these services to the straight couple, as the filmmaker seems to be having fun reversing this stereotype role.

Just when you think you know what direction the film is going it pulls a “Sliding Doors” scenario and gives us two other what-if versions of what happens in this love triangle, that is, after it shows Leo getting his first real kiss and f*ck from Ryan. They begin an affair, but the story then reverses itself and it starts over from the same point where Leo and Ryan connected. In this second version, Ryan leaves Joel but seems displeased with Leo as a lover. When given some space to think things over, he realizes that he loves Joel. But Joel is, at first, wary to get back into this relationship. In the final version, Leo expresses only a platonic interest in Ryan, but is really interested in the now separated Joel. But learns the hard way that Joel doesn’t feel anything special for him.

The film’s magic is conjured up in how it captures the hidden essence of the three main characters by allowing us to observe them in their natural state and how each version played out might be interpreted as one of their fantasies. We get to know them because they hold real conversations about their pains and desires, and everything they do seems like things real people would do if placed in that situation. The film ends on an unpredictable note with Ryan taking to the highway and vanishing from an L.A. that becomes hidden in a parade of cars. It happens so suddenly, as if both Ryan and L.A. never existed. The filmmaker gives us no clue as to where his alter ego Ryan is drifting off to, it is as if he were just another one of L.A.’s many inhabitants who came for a short visit to the city of dreams and has touched only his small circle of friends who might or might not hear from him again. He’s now more emotionally mature and confident that he can land on his own two feet no matter where he goes, and if he dies or falls on his face he at least found some answers to comfort him. He has become absorbed by a story he heard about a double-suicide pact between two lovers, and now believes that finding love and then dying is the ultimate high in romance. This ambiguous ending, that leaves us hanging as to Ryan’s state of mind and the location he’s heading to, is a more satisfying ending than what most such relationship dramas present. Most films think that they have to resolve things or else their script failed.

I also must mention that I enjoyed Ryan’s coffee shop boss, Bob (Michel Choban), who played his small curmudgeon part with a knack for delivering perfectly timed comical retorts.

This is the kind of intimate (some hot kissing scenes and touching moments) and personal search for the truth film that deserves a larger audience than just the underground gay scene, but the realist in me knows it won’t get that chance to play in mainstream venues.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”