In ‘Front Cover’ a gay Chinese American comes to terms with his cultural identity

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    In ‘Front Cover’ a gay Chinese American comes to terms with his cultural identity

    You could say that Ryan Fu’s feelings about his heritage are complicated. The openly gay son of Chinese immigrants, the New York fashion stylist can’t even cross paths with an Asian deliveryman without shooting him a look of disdainful superiority. Because that happens during the first scene of the romantic comedy “Front Cover,” it’s clear that the character’s notions about cultural identity are going to play a big part in what’s to come.

    It doesn’t take long. Ryan (a charming Jake Choi) gets an assignment to style an up-and-coming Chinese actor, Ning (James Chen), who’s visiting from Beijing while preparing for a big magazine spread. At first, the two don’t get along. Ning jokes to his entourage that Ryan is ABC — short for “American-borrowed Chinese.” (“Like the pandas,” the actor helpfully explains to his unamused stylist.)

    Things get worse before they get, predictably, better: The pair’s tenuous alliance very nearly falls apart after Ning tells Ryan that they can work together only if Ryan doesn’t show his “homo side” so openly.

    Doth he protest too much? You bet.

    Meanwhile, the guys end up learning a thing or two from each other. Ning becomes more open-minded, and Ryan finds a new appreciation for his roots. The movie, which tends to lack surprise and subtlety, only really finds its groove once Ryan’s parents (Elizabeth Sung and Ming Lee) show up, demonstrating both how shabbily their son treats them — he’s constantly embarrassed by their immigrant ways — and how devoted they are to him. His mother still harbors feelings of guilt over trying to toughen up her son during childhood, when he was constantly bullied.

    That subplot, not to mention Sung’s moving performance, makes the movie more complex. Otherwise, “Front Cover” is weighed down by heavy-handed dialogue and a melodramatic score. The second feature from writer-director Ray Yeung (“Cut Sleeve Boys”), the film’s examination of the first-generation American experience feels fresh. The delivery, however, is hardly original.

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