SQIFF ’20: Exploring the Mythical and Modern in Queer Asian Cinema

The Glamourous Boys of Tang (Queer East’s Film Festival/SQIFF)

Queer East’s Film Festival’s Gods and/or Monsters presents an exhilarating series of short films that range from tender to tenderising. The festival is dedicated to showcasing rarely seen LGBTQ+ films from East and Southeast Asia, amplifying unheard voices of queer people of colour and championing activism. This collaboration with SQIFF is part of an expanded program of digital and cinema screenings that will continue until  January 2021.

While the six-film billing mainly features contemporary filmmakers, the program also explores the existence of queerness in East Asian history, both mythological and cinematic: Alienation, originally filmed in 1966, has only recently been recovered. An early and experimental outing from director Kang-Chien Chiu, Alienation combines car accidents and crucifixions to create it’s living poem. Kang-Chien’s work ruminates throughout the program, The Glamourous Boys of Tang a self-proclaimed homage to his 1985 film, Tang Chao Chi Li Nan (Tang Dynasty Beautiful Male).

Difficult to access online, this cult film featured scenes of homoeroticism and violence, however scenes were cut due to budgeting constraints and censorship. Hui-Yu Su’s The Glamourous Boys of Tang is an exciting attempt to re-shoot these lost scenes. It’s visually arresting, with rivers of glitter and blood that allure and alienate, and a bamboo forest setting evocative of wuxia. The dreamlike characters don’t fight with swords, but run their tongues along their sharp edges, the pain and pleasure of this world thrillingly theatrical.

Kiss of the Rabbit God (Queer East’s Film Festvial/SQIFF)

Andrew Thomas Huang’s Kiss of the Rabbit God (兔兒神) strikes similar note of bittersweet sensuality, as a Chinese-American restaurant worker is seduced by Tu’er Shen, the aforementioned God. The title of the film points to a familiar queer pulp novel trope of innocence corrupted, but Kiss of the Rabbit God is more about freedom than fear.

Although Huang’s video for FKA Twig’s ‘Cellophane’ saw him nominated for a 2019 Grammy, this is his first narrative film, and it is a must see. Unlike The Glamourous Boys of Tang, which dehumanises sex almost to the point of disgust, in Kiss of the Rabbit God desire, identity and heritage are bound together breathlessly. Combining Chinese folklore with his distinct visual style, Huang has carved out a realised world that feels textured and tangible: it’s what Starz’ American Gods wishes it could be.

The relationship between myth and queer reality is woven throughout Gods and/or Monsters, especially in many of the films’ pursuit of queer sanctuaries. Echo Each Other uses sign language and surf rock in a tale of two mermaids, while Reality Fragment 160921 follows the long-distance relationship of directing duo 七个木 Qigemu 七個木. Echo Each Other is self-contained, the couple’s small flat a refuge as the threat of financial difficulty and invasion looms. Queer female relationships are usually depicted at their beginning or ending, and Echo Each Other’s focus on domesticity is refreshing. In Reality Fragment 160921, described as documenting ‘the process of reality creation’, queer love is not just an experience, but a place that can be reached. ‘Tongzhiai’ is a space the directors Jasmine and April Lin cultivate through internet, memory and home-movie footage.

Do all queer lovers feel that they’re inventing something? Yes, and Gods and/or Monsters invites the audience to share the experience, never more so than in Adorable, an animated short from director Cheng Hsu Chung. Bold strokes and vivid primary colours dance cheekily in a living painting of sex, partying and fetish; like the rest of the program, fresh and exciting.

You can access Gods and/or Monsters on a sliding scale basis until the 18th October at SQIFF. Visit Queer East Film Festival’s website for more information about upcoming screenings.

by Suki Hollywood

(She/her) Born on Valentine’s Day in Belfast, Suki Hollywood is a pop culture junkie first, a writer second. Raised on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, her favourite films include Moonlight and The Wizard of Oz, but truth be told, television is where her heart liesA graduate of The University of Glasgow, she has contributed editorially to Knight Errant Press and had her creative work featured in publications such as From Glasgow to Saturn and clavmag. Find her at sukihollywood.com or @miz.possible on Instagram.

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