These are films that are not designed to promote or condemn homosexuality, but films which mirror the “coming of age” films, the “romance” films, and just general life-stories that we see so often in mainstream cinema. The difference is that these films are based on same-sex situations. We countdown the Top 10 Asian films representing this theme kicking it off with the number 10 slot:
One day, Sonoko, a married woman having a husband, meets young, beautiful Mitsuko. Puzzled Sonoko is charmed by the beauty of Mitsuko, and two people fall into relations between women at the start. Manji is pure Junichiro Tanizaki. All of his favorite themes are on display: the modern, Westernized Japanese girl representing a moral void intent on servicing only her own interests to the destruction of others, the obsession with such a figure, going beyond sexuality to absolute slavish devotion, even the spanking. Tanizaki was an author with a definite viewpoint, and director Yasuzo Masumura has captured this viewpoint perfectly.
The very basic plot line is the story of two clowns that go to Seoul to gain fame and fortune and have the idea of mocking the King to attract more public. Though the idea functions at first they’re rapidly punished but are left with one chance: if they can make the king laugh their lives will be spared. The movie also makes discreet jibes at those in power, and their ability, or inability, to accept satires about themselves. It is always easy for men in power to dismiss harshly the satires and their creators, but it takes a lot more to be able to look past the comic and understand the issues made fun of. There are brief scenes at courtroom politicking and on corruption, but these scenes are too short to leave any lasting impression or distract the audience. The King and the Clown is a historical drama which has the cinematic beauty, unique plot and highly talented actors. In addition, it gracefully breaches subjects that have been considered taboo.
The film is an honest yet provocative insight of the world of several disenchanted, tattooed youths rejected by their own families and sidelined by the mainstream of society. There are scenes where two boys place a sex doll between them and the guy on the top simulates a violent rape of the doll. Eventually the two spend some time in bed together and their attraction for each other is homosexual, and there are some tender scenes where one gently hugs the other one. This movie does not pull any punches, as this is the reality for these boys, in the circumstances that they are faced with. 15 was essentially a platform for the display of the teenagers’ pain, loneliness, hopelessness, despair and frustration. The depressing slant is moderately balanced by several points of humor and entertainment, which would be better appreciated in a Singaporean context.
Amphetamine follows gay lovers but it turns out that their addiction to love proves more fatal than the drugs they use to explore the boundaries of their friendship. Amphetamine is the second installment in a supposedly semi-autobiographical trilogy, which is to be completed with Scud’s upcoming film Life of an Artist. The connection and growth of Kafka and Daniel’s relationship is quite heartbreaking to witness. The lead character Kafka spends most of the time being high, so there is little room for emotional development between Kafka and Daniel. Amphetamine can be described as bittersweet, emotional, and sincere. The plot revolves around drug abuse, tragic love, and gays and lesbians.
Jade (Rainie Yang) is an Internet web-cam girl, living with her grandma, and making a living out of smut, enticing men to trade money for moments of online peek-a-boo pleasure. She has a love since 9 years of age, and it is the relationship with Takeko (Isabella Leong), a tattooist, that forms the fulcrum of the story. It is not a girl-on-girl story, it is just a love story with two women, about obsession and trauma, with tattoos as the tie. One doesn’t have to get into philosophy to understand love and pain. Just sit back and enjoy.
Soundless Wind Chime is the story of Ricky who leaves Hong Kong for Switzerland to find the lost soul and the past of his dead lover, Pascal. He faces a struggle of memories, reality and illusion on his dreamlike journey. When he visits a beautiful thrift store, Rickey meets Ueli, a man that looks identical to Pascal, but has a totally different personality. This is a very complex film that I would probably have to watch twice to get the full scope of it. Director Hung has apparently been working on the film for five years, and it shows. Striving for a densely poetic texture, the film is so overloaded with visual bliss. There’s a lot going on beneath Soundless Wind Chime’s stylish, deliberately arty surface.
Oshima Nagisa’s 1999 film Gohatto is about desire and suspicion within the ranks of the Shinsengumi during the bakumatsu period. The story follows a love triangle between pale-skinned beauty Kano Sozaburo (Matsuda Ryuhei) and Tashiro Hyozo (Asano Tadanobu) but is told mostly through the perspective of Captain Hijikata, played by Kitano Takeshi. Set in 1865, during the twilight of the Shinsengumi and Tokugawa shogunate (bakufu), the film is a nostalgic love letter to the last days of feudal Japan, an examination of the destructive effects of desire within the brotherhood of the Shinsengumi, and an allegorical criticism of the efforts of modern Japanese society to repress the desires of the individual for the sake of the majority. It was Oshima’s first film in 13 years and revolved around the highly controversial practice of homosexuality (shūdō: the way of youths) among the samurai class.
This movie is a pseudo-lesbian themed movie that is well acted and directed, which is divided into four stories without any real connecting theme or element, it seems to deprive the viewer of any gratification that other similar movies provide. This is not to say it isn’t without any merit. All the actors do a good job, especially Sandrine Pinna and Karena Lam, despite either of them not really having much to do. The final story is the well directed, but it is also possibly the most hollow. Likewise, the pacing and scenery is good, same for most of the music and sound.
Murmur of Youth is a very delicate and understated drama about two girls, both from small villages, who meet in Taipei while working in a movie theater; their mutual dislocation leads to a friendship which soon becomes something more. In many ways, there is a tentative quality to this film which makes it seem almost evanescent, but this very delicacy allows for subtle emotions to emerge gradually within the story. When this film was made, cinema in Taiwan was undergoing a radical shift, as a number of artists, led by Hou Hsaio-Hsien and Edward Yang, were trying to create an “art” cinema; Lin Cheng-sheng was one of their colleagues, and his films, though less hard-edged, tried to tell stories of Taiwanese youth and their search for relationships.
Just when you thought that you knew everything about Hong Kong cinema or about romantic adventures in film, director Kar Wai Wong steps forward and eliminates all boundaries. Coming in at #1, Happy Together is everything a cinephile would desire like strong characters, a non-linear story, and the brazen truth about modern society’s relationships. This was more than just a gay film, but instead a story about emotions and loves, coupled with all the turmoil that surrounds it. Happy Together is such a vivid examination of a relationship, it’s occasionally painful to watch. The emotional authenticity, however, makes it quite absorbing. Wong Kar-Wai often aims for the heart and, with the possible exception of In the Mood for Love, he’s never been closer to his target.