“The Silk and the Flame”
“The Silk And The Flame” explores parental pressure in China on younger generations who desire nothing more than to explore their own sexuality without fear of judgment. We meet Yao who travels back from Beijing to his family’s village so that they can celebrate Chinese New Year together. Jordan Schiele’s cinematography and direction captures everyday life in rural China and this stays with viewers long after the credits roll. Yao selflessly puts aside his own needs to support his family, all while fending off their relentless need to see him settle down with a nice woman.
The homecoming exodus across Mainland China leading up to New Year is thought to be the largest regular mass migration in the world. Unfortunately for Yao Shou, things get even more uncomfortable for him when he arrives at his parents’ house. The climate for LGBT Chinese citizens is not good (to say the least), especially in homes. For various social reasons, there is a lack of welfare programs and the slightly loosened One Child policy puts gays and lesbians under enormous pressure to marry. Yao is an example of this. He explains the corrosive effect it has on his relationship with his family. It is easy to understand why the closeted Yao feels so guilty. His mother is deaf and essentially mute, due to a case of childhood medical malpractice. His stroke-impaired father has given up on life, sinking into a state of existential near-catatonia. Since he was a teenager,
Yao has been his family’s primary source of financial support—and he provided well. Yet, he is constantly miserable because he lacks a wife of convenience to placate them, as well as a lover for his own personal fulfillment.
Yao never really embraced life in Beijing, but he looks increasingly out of place in Jiwa, a provincial village in Henan. In large part, it is because of the endless questions from family and neighbors regarding his matrimonial prospects, yet we get a sense of even deeper tensions dividing Yao and his father.
Visually, this is a striking documentary. We get a vivid perspective on modern life in rural Henan. The trust that exists between the two friends, subject and documentarian, is also unmistakable. How much Yao opens himself up for his Schiele’s camera is quite remarkable. We can only wonder what will happen when the film makes its way back to Jiwa village. Perhaps this is Yao’s intention yet he has certainly expended great time and effort far to maintain his double life.