The Silk and The Flame

Director: Jordan Schiele
2018 | USA | 87m
GENRE: Aging/Elders | Asian/Pacific Islander | Coming Out | Documentary | Experimental | Gay
SECTION: Documentary

Single and successful but without a boyfriend (to make himself happy) or a wife (whose fertility would make his aging parents happy), Yao Shou returns to his family’s village from the capital to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Accompanied by a friend—the filmmaker Jordan Schiele, a Beijing-based New Yorker fluent in Mandarin—Yao navigates and endures a rocky reunion: his father has been disabled by a pair of strokes, and his mother (deaf and unable to speak words since a childhood illness) conveys her delight at Yao’s visit by haranguing him about his overdue obligation to procreate.

Filmmaker Schiele gives us astonishing access to Chinese village life, Yao’s family’s dynamics, and the complex inner life of his gay friend. In public, Yao is remarkably placid about his parents’ chronic displeasure. But in solitary reflections to Schiele, Yao sneaks a cigarette and expresses his frustration at his fruitless sacrifices to meet the expectations of his mother and father. “I’m always trying to be a good boy,” he says, a striking confession for a man in his late 30s. To maintain that role, Yao will go so far as to “introduce” a fake girlfriend (actually, a coworker) to his extended family on his cellphone via FaceTime—a virtual love interest who truly exists only in the ether.

Ravishingly photographed in crisp black-and-white, The Silk and the Flame is an empathetic, touching portrait of a self-aware man bound by loyalty and boxed in by archaic cultural norms.

— MICHAEL FOX

SPONSORED BY
Gilead

CO-PRESENTED BY
Center for Asian American Media / Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco / UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)

  • Language: In Mandarin and English with English subtitles
  • Premiere Status: Bay Area