(2022, 81 min)
Country: Hong Kong
Studio: Breaking Glass Pictures
Language: Chinese w/subtitles
A scholar claiming to be an apostle to Socrates and Plato finds it hard to face his end. With the help of his wife and his ex-partner's family, he recruits 12 young men to come to his secluded manor to pursue the exploration of death. Philosophical discussions aside, the exploration involves climbing the volcanic summit of Mt. Fuji, bondage, sex acts and even human sacrifice. The latest film from prolific Hong Kong-based writer-director Scud (Amphetamine, Adonis, Voyage), Apostles is one of his most erotic and provocative features to date.
12 men are recruited by a scholar claiming to be an apostle to Socrates and Plato, to explore death. Gathered together in his secluded house with his wife by his side, the scholar engages the men in philosophical discussions and pushes them to their limits as he challenges their senses and boundaries.
If that description of the filmís plot seems short, itís because thereís not a great deal of substance to controversial film-maker Scudís latest film. Known for showcasing the male nude through his work, Scud packs the nudity and sex into ĎApostlesí at the expense of pretty much anything else. Within minutes of the film starting, we watch one of the young men lying on his bed and masturbating until he climaxes. It brings into question whether the audience is watching porn or art, and that question comes up time-and-time again as the film progresses.
Much of ĎApostlesí is centred around philosophical discusses between the scholar and the men heís brought into his home. Between discussions, the viewer is frequently taken to sexual encounters between the men, who for the most part are nude throughout the film. While the sex scenes may be a draw to some viewers, the lack of a coherent story behind whatís unfolding on screen will prove problematic to most. The film jumps between flashbacks and the present, and itís hard to know what timeline youíre in for a lot of the film. Towards the end of the film, Scud himself appears in a very meta moment that is more baffling than surprising.
The men are put through their paces, bringing to life stories from Greek mythology such as Sisyphus, the man who was punished for cheating death twice and forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill. Those who know their mythology may appreciate these stories being weaved into the film and told in a new way, but Scudís directorial choices are at times a bit baffling. For seemingly no reason the audio completely cuts out during scenes (I thought there was a fault with my screener initially) and the camera is more interested in sexualising the men than it is presenting a linear story.
ĎApostlesí is certainly an unusual film and like all of Scudís work, it will prove to be divisive. I didnít find it unwatchable but I did struggle to follow along and understand what was happening. Death is still very much a taboo subject, as is sex, so I can see that Scud was attempting to blur the lines between both to be provocative. Unfortunately, the film isnít as thought-provoking as it sets out to be and the endless nudity becomes more of a distraction than a titillation.
-- Review by Pip Ellwood-Hughes, Entertainment Focus (http://www.entertainment-focus.com)