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by C. B. Yi

grade: 7

Moneyboys – as prostituted boys are called in China – is an angry cry against a too big and powerful system. Moneyboys is the image of a lost love, a deep sense of guilt, a desperate desire to live, to dream, to love. At the Viennale 2021.


Capitalist society does not consider human beings as such. This, unfortunately, is a fact. But if people are often forced to give up their private lives because of too much work, there are also those who, in far worse economic conditions, are even forced to sell themselves and their bodies. This sad reality is told, then, in Moneyboys, the debut feature film by director C. B. Yi, already premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2021 – section Un certain Regard – and re-proposed to the audience on the occasion of the Viennale 2021.

The staged story is that of young Fei (played by Kai Ko), a country boy who, in order to send money to his family, prostitutes himself. Mocked and judged by his own relatives, the boy realises that he can no longer live in his hometown and decides to move to the city for good. He will also be joined by Long (Yufan Bai), his childhood friend, who hopes to start a new life. Fei, at the same time, cannot forget his old lover Xiaolai (JC Lin), who, in defending him from a violent client, has inevitably remained lame. Will the boy be able to make sense of his life and overcome his remorse?

Fei’s story is, then, the story of many other boys. Many boys who cannot lead a ‘normal’ life, who come from poor families, who are marginalised by society because of their work. In order to make his debut feature film, C. B. Yi took eighteen years and was freely inspired by stories of people he met during university. The end result is a portrait of a difficult, ruthless world in which one is constantly lonely.

Coloured, dazzling lights inside clubs contrast with the greyness of suburban environments. Sharp editing cuts cleverly alternate with long shots that show us the young protagonist in his most intimate moments. The director’s camera follows the young Fei with affection and compassion, without ever judging. An extraordinary sensitivity is inspired by the aesthetics of Oriental cinema and immediately reminds us of Tsai Ming-liang’s cinema, although, in this case, the directorial approach is much less contemplative and more focused on dialogue.

Likewise, the close-ups on the protagonist’s face perfectly capture all his feelings. Just as it happens in leisure moments spent with friends, now during a wedding (where, despite the circumstances, sadness and sorrow take centre stage), now during a farewell dinner. And so, Fei and his friends represent what capitalist society has given birth to. Many young people who are unable to make sense of their lives. Moneyboys – as prostitute boys are called in China – is an angry cry against a too big and powerful system. Moneyboys is the image of a lost love, a deep sense of guilt, the remorse of not being able to spend the last days with their late family members, a desperate desire to live, to dream, to love. A freeing dance that gives us hope for a better future. An interesting debut feature by a young and promising director from the contemporary Austrian film scene.

Original title: Moneyboys
Directed by: C. B. Yi
Country/year: Austria, France, Belgium, Taiwan / 2021
Running time: 120’
Genre: drama
Cast: Yufan Bai, Kai Ko, Zhexi Lin, Chloe Maayan, Qiheng Sun
Screenplay: C. B. Yi
Cinematography: Jean-Louis Vialard
Produced by: Zorba, Flash Forward Entertainment, Panache Productions, KGP Filmproduktion, ARTE France

Info: the page of Moneyboys on iMDb; the page of Moneyboys on the website of the Viennale