Lilting Review and Analysis


On February 2nd Reelout presented a feature titled Lilting. Hong Khaou brings a moving tale about two people coming together through grief, translation, and misunderstanding. Taking place in London, the relationship between two strangers pivot as they mourn the most important person in both of their lives. Pei-pei Cheung takes on the role of Junn, the mother of Kai whom is played by Andrew Leung. Ben Whishaw plays Kai’s boyfriend Richard, who after Kai’s death goes out of his way to build a relationship with Junn so that he can organize the remains of her son. We observe the struggle they face daily in an attempt to connect without a common language so Richard hires a translator to allow Junn to communicate with her love interest, as she speaks six languages none of which being English. Together they address the obstacles that they face, and come to terms with the death of the man they both loved. Key themes from Lilting include Intersectionality, hegemony, acceptance, and barriers. Their journey expresses a beautiful tale of coming out, acceptance, and understanding of one another. Lilting was very powerful and had a profound influence on my understanding on race and coming out.


Through the knowledge I have gained throughout the course GNDS125, I was able to see and interpret the film from a new perspective. Further, I was able to recognize the themes of the movie and analyze their importance. Notably, there were two scenes that stuck with me even after the film was over. The first impacting argument between Richard and Junn was fierce as Richard accused Junn of being a burden for Kai as she refuses to adapt to English culture despite living in London for years. Throughout this scene visual culture is represented through the decoration around the room such as the furniture and flowers. This provided us with insight that English culture was being forced upon Junn; in her new home she is forced to live in a home that doesn’t suit her likings. However, despite being surrounded by English practices, Junn represents her culture in the ways that she can. This is important for the film, as it made it clear to the audience that they need to differentiate the two cultures from each other. They made this easier for viewers by introducing some stereotypical traits of race. An example of this is Junn’s character, who is a very petite old lady that is very strict, just as Chinese elderly frequently are portrayed through media. This is important to recognize, as it is an ongoing issue throughout media and can trace back to orientalism in visual culture. Junn speaks six different languages and is capable of learning English, however she refuses to pick up the language and accept the culture, which displays hegemony and pride for her culture. Hegemony is dominance, especially by one country or social group over others (Root Autlette and Winttner, 82) She expresses and displays this through her belief that her culture is superior and dominates English culture, and completely unnecessary for her to conform into the social construction provided by the director. This is important to address and think critically upon as it creates a divide and inequality between the characters based on their race. I believe this is a key aspect of the film, as it sets up a boundary for the two characters to overcome, through understanding and acceptance. The second scene that I was able to form a critical analysis for repeats multiple times throughout the film. This is where Kai attempts to come out to his mother about his sexual orientation. It is clear that he is extremely nervous about telling his mother, as she may be homophobic because homosexuality conflicts with her traditional views. Kai presents her homophobia as something he is struggling to deal with; as Junn questions her son what is wrong he is unable to seize the opportunity to come out to her.  This scene left me feeling sorrowful, as it was such a burden for Kai to be honest with his mother despite having such a strong desire to be. This further essentializes her character by making the assumption that she will not accept that he is queer, which is the belief of a set characteristic that make them who they are (Root Autlette and Winttner, 61). Thus, Kai’s mother being homophobic will never change in the eyes of Kai. It provided us with an insight to the difficulty one might go through for being apart of the community and benefits viewers by providing an understanding and perspective on what members of the LGBTQ community may suffer through. This personally triggers a disappointed and somber feeling, as no person should go through that pain. Another analysis that is important to address is the intersection of sexual orientation and race throughout the movie. Kai is a cisgender gay individual that immigrated to England from China. He has an ongoing struggle of being queer and Chinese throughout the film, which is an example of intersectionality. This is expressed through his essentialism of his mother’s disapproval for him. This key theme is essential to our understanding of every day conflicts people may suffer through. Overall the film provides the audience with the ability to make an analysis of events that occur in everyday life.


Lilting personally touched me, as my best friend has been unable to come out to his family about his sexual orientation due to his culture. I see the struggle and difficulty he has with it and how much it impacts him. The film presented a different but similar experience, which enriched my understanding on the topic. Reelout arranged an environment for everyone to be comfortable in and an enjoyable experience. I am privileged and grateful to be apart of a community that is so welcoming and where we are taught to be accepting of everyone no matter his or her differences. Reelout provides entertainment that members in the audience enjoy ad they are open-minded enough to have an interest in the festival. I would highly recommend Reelout to everyone.




Root Autlette, Judy, and Wittner Judith. Gendered Worlds. New York: Oxford, 2015.



4 thoughts on “Lilting Review and Analysis

  1. aba

    Hey Mac, thanks for the review! Lilting was definitely another film I wanted to see but could not attend ): but at least I got to read a review on it! I think you’re very right in mentioning the issue with orientalism in visual culture. Even in the most profound and meaningful films like Lilting, it is still very hard to move away from the traditional stereotypes media portrays. However I think it is very realistic to show it since traditional views and culture is still very real today and unfortunately it still plays a huge role in the social construction of gender and sexuality, holding individuals back from expressing themselves for who they are. I am so glad there are films like this and festivals such as Reelout. I totally agree that it helps individuals understand the struggles by individuals such as your friend and I hope events such as Reelout will slowly help people become more accepting of those differences!


  2. Jac

    Wow, this is an excellent review. 🙂

    I think it’d be interesting to also consider which languages Junn decides to learn or not. For example, cultural hegemony exists in Asian countries and is seen as European/American sort of thing. Obviously countries such as France, Spain, Netherlands, and such have strong histories of colonization especially in Asia, and have similar legacies to the colonization of the British. So I was wondering if Junn’s resistance is solely against Anglophone linguistic imperialism or if it’s against European/American hegemony in general.

    I really like how this film also illustrates intersectional issues of culture and queer issues. The idea of being gay is not necessarily something that is seen favourably by the Chinese culture (especially among the more traditional, older generation), and that is something that should always be contextualized within cultural constraints. I am happy to hear that this film addresses social issues within a cultural contexts in such a manner; Lilting addresses what it means to be gay and Chinese through the eyes of Chinese British immigrants. In terms of Junn’s portrayal as a strict elderly woman, I’m curious if the goal of the movie is to demonstrate that East Asian women aren’t simply this stereotypical depiction by also humanizing and breaking these stereotypes with Kai’s interactions with Junn. I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t think of any examples, but the creator of the film is Cambodian British director, and the actors are East Asian, so I can’t help but wonder if they attempt to challenge these stereotypes or not.


  3. rau

    While reading your review, I found several similarities between “Lilting” and the film I watched, “Blackbird”. Similar to “Lilting”, the main character in “Blackbird”, Randy, also struggles with his homosexuality. Randy’s family is very religion and therefore he knows that his feelings are sinful to their Christianity. Randy never felt comfortable to admitting and accepting his homosexuality because he was afraid of what his family, his church, and God would think. Near the end of the film, Randy brings his boyfriend home to meet his parents and his parents learn to accept Randy for who he is. In “Lilting”, did Kai ever come out to his mother? Did Kai’s mother know about him and Richard before Kai died?

    I think the story line about Richard making an effort to aid and mourn with Junn through the aftermath of Kai’s passing to be very strong. It sounds like Junn was not very accepting of Kai and Richard, however, that did not stop Richard from showing Junn what kind of man he is and how good he would have been for Kia. I think that Richard’s kindness would have proven to Junn, and been a good example for society, that a person’s sexual orientation and partner preference does not define the individual. Was Junn unaccepting of Kai’s sexual orientation? Or did Kai just assume that his mother would not be open to the fact?


  4. Ash

    Mac, awesome review of Lilting! Not often do we see people of diverse backgrounds in films, and when we do it tends to be under an orientalist spotlight. Still, the movie features many things that we don’t normally see in popular culture, but should. Those of the LGBTQ community struggle with their sexuality everyday in a society where heterosexuality is the norm. Junn’s refusal to assimilate to the British culture and her own hegemony could be a form of rebellion. It kind of makes me think about the experiences of the Indigenous peoples in Canada. They’ve suffered hundreds of years of discrimination due to hegemony and colonialism. I’m really glad you enjoyed Lilting and Reelout!



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