The last movie one would probably expect to see a gay couple in is a bullet-soaked action spectacular starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, about 73 other action stars, and Mel Gibson as the bad guy. But it would appear there is one in The Expendables 3, the latest installment in Stallone's omnibus action franchise, which opened in theaters on Friday.
(Warning: This story contains some SPOILERS, if there is such a thing for these movies.)
In the final scene of the film, the Expendables are at their favorite dive bar celebrating another successful mission of killing an endless parade of faceless bad guys. Lead Expendable Barney Ross (Stallone) approaches his old rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is commiserating with one of Ross' former compatriots, Yin Yang (Jet Li), both of whom swooped in to help save Ross' team in the climax of the movie.
"So, you're working for Trench now?" Ross asks Yang, who responds by just shooting Trench a knowing look and a smile. As Ross turns to walk away, Trench and Yang lean in even closer to each other, grinning so widely, they almost start to giggle.
"You guys want to get a room?" asks Ross.
"We don't need a room!" Trench says with a laugh. He pulls Yang in close, Yang rests his head on Trench's chest, and the two of them laugh contentedly.
As Ross walks away, Trench exclaims, "So jealous!"
Yes, that really happens. But does it mean Trench and Yang are a couple, or is this just another example of the kind of gay-baiting humor that is so prevalent in high octane action movies?
Remarkably, according to Expendables 3 director Patrick Hughes (Red Hill), it's the former. In an interview with Grantland, writer Matt Patches directly asked Hughes about the scene, and he confirmed that he sees the the two men as a couple:
There aren't any shots of other characters reacting to this turn of events, but the moment does not play as a joke — Schwarzenegger and Li's laughter and physical affection feel genuine and heartfelt. And when Ross asks them, "You guys want to get a room?" Stallone plays the question straight, not as a Hey now, cut out that gay crap macho warning. (A rep for Lionsgate, meanwhile, had no comment when BuzzFeed asked about the scene.)
And there's further fodder to take Trench and Yang seriously. In an earlier scene in the film, after witnessing Ross verbally spar with his compatriot Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Trench says, "If you guys wanted to fight, why didn't you get married?" Yang first appears in the film after CIA Agent Drummer (Ford) calls on Trench to help him bail out Ross and his team. Trench tells Drummer that Yang is all he could get to help them on such short notice — the implication being that Yang was perhaps quite nearby.
To be fair, the moment between the characters at the bar goes by so quickly, many may not even register it. And it's ambiguous enough that even with Hughes' acknowledgement that he thinks they're a couple, others could see them as just two good friends.
Nonetheless, for a certain generation, there is no one who epitomizes extreme masculinity more than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jet Li is one of the biggest stars of Chinese cinema. To see them happily nuzzling each other feels like a quiet milestone in action movie history.