• Matthew Baren

Asian Genderqueer Films


It has been a massive year for advancing transgender awareness in China, from legal challenges to the emergence of new advocacy groups. This culminated in the first National Transgender Summit, held earlier this month in Ningbo. Globally, the growing visibility of trans and non-binary gender people has been reflected in hit films and television series like The Danish Girl and Transparent. Whilst the mainstream discourse is dominated by American productions, Asia-Pacific countries have plenty to offer in gender queer cinema, and so to mark the end of the year, we asked a group of activists, filmmakers and festival programmers from around the world to pick their favourite.

1. Kumu Hina

(USA, 2014, Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson)

Chosen by Charlie Cox, Programmer, Fringe! Film Fest (UK)

This documentary invites us to imagine a world where a little boy can grow up to be the woman of his dreams, and a young girl can rise to become a leader among men. Hinaleimoana is a proud and confident mahu (a person who embraces what is considered both the male and female inside). She is the wise, passionate, tattoo-covered, outspoken kumu (teacher, leader) who you cannot help but fall for as she negotiates the struggles of her new marriage and guides the determined young student Ho‘onani in this refreshing and irresistible documentary about being true to yourself, fighting for love and through heartbreak, and the struggle to maintain Pacific Islander culture in modern day Hawai’i. This exploration of third gender digs deep into Hawaiian history exploring the different views of gender pre-western thought which truly marks this film as an inspiration for contemporary filmmakers, cinema and the transgender community as a whole.

2. It Gets Better

(Thailand, 2012, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit)

Chosen by Joanne Leung, Chairperson, Transgender Resource Center, Hong Kong

I love the movie It Gets Better. It’s my favourite because it features real trans people across three touching storylines, all connected to each other. The struggle between being a woman and your relationship with your father is so true to a lot of trans people, and is the focus of one of the stories. It also shows the bond between trans sisters and how other people seeing them. It reflects deeply on a real experience of the trans community.

3. Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere

(Vietnam, 2014, Hoang Diep Nguyen)

Chosen by Qian Jinghua, journalist, Sixth Tone

Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere is a visually arresting film from Vietnam. Though the story is focused on 17-year-old Huyen, a cisgender girl who goes into fetish work to fund her abortion, her friendship with her transgender housemate creates a backdrop of sisterhood between trans and cis femmes as they make their way through a strange, stifling world. Without ever feeling didactic, the film is infused with a subtle feminism that shines through its lyrical, spacious storytelling.

4. From Beavis (M) to Beatrice (F)

(Hong Kong, 2015, Beatrice Wong Suet-ling)

Chosen by Kaspar Wan, trans filmmaker

My pick is actually a film which you probably won’t ever see in cinema. From Beavis (M) to Beatrice (F) is a short documentary made by a trans-woman, a very honest record of her whole journey. A must-see for those who care about sex reassignment surgery and the lives of trans-persons. It has screened at a few film festivals, so look out for it at your local queer/trans/gay & lesbian festival. The language we have right now is not enough to cover the living experience of trans persons in a way that other people would understand, or could have imagined. I say ‘must-see’ because it is so honest, and from a perspective many won’t have seen before. It's more than words can describe, you won't get it until you see it.

5. #BKKY

(Thailand, 2016, Nontawat Numbenchapol)

Chosen by Saadat Munir, Director, Aks Festival

A 2016 film that literally made me think there is a thing that storytellers should have been part of the story, to deliver more authentic sense of the film. #BKKY is youthful and portrays another side of Thailand's young and vibrant lives which is far from touristy image of Thailand. The camera work, story, and the mix of documentary narratives into fiction is very unique and fresh.

6. Funeral Parade Of Roses

(Japan, 1969, Tashio Matsumoto)

Chosen by Matthew Baren, Programmer, CINEMQ

Eddie and Leda are two transvestites competing for their boss’ love in 1960s Tokyo, in this heady record of the city’s queer counter-cultural underground. Surreal comedy and snappy dialogue are punctuated by some on point observations about how our bodies are perceived and used by society. Matsumoto’s representation of genderqueer is at times problematic, and somehow the lives of the main characters never quite seem to be their own (whether hidden behind masks or as pawns in a larger Greek tragedy) But the film is undeniably a classic, and the transvestites and trans girls who thunder across the scene are as delicate and as powerful as any icon of new wave cinema.

7. Splendid Float

(Taiwan, 2004, Zero Chou)

Chosen by Vita Hsing-Hung Lin, Director, TIQFF

In 2004, the second year Taiwan had its very own LGBTQ pride parade, director Zero Chou, who later went on to win the Teddy award at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival with her feature film Spider Lillies, released her first fiction feature Splendid Float. It was the first Taiwanese film to ever focus on the local drag community. Through surreal occurrences, decadent visuals and a melancholy narrative, the film reflects on the authentic reality that gender minorities face in Taiwan. A Taoist priest by day and a drag queen by night, the main character embodies both physically and psychologically the ubiquitous Yin and Yang (The Dead and The Living/Female and Male/Feminine and Masculine) dichotomy that permeates Taiwanese culture and society. A Taoist priest acts as an authoritative figure in this historically religious culture, and is believed to have the power of bridging the Yin world (the dead) and the Yang world (the living), whereas a drag queen who performs on floats subverts conventional definitions of desire and sexuality, and is therefore often dismissed. The two disparate identities of the main character are at once both integral and contradictory. Struggling in a crevice between convention and modernity, dignity and prejudice, he eventually loses control of his life as it spirals towards tragedy. Taking inspirations from iconic cultural symbols, the film pioneered the exploration of gender queer topics in a Taiwanese context.

CINEMQ is a queer film screening, party, and zine series based in Shanghai. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.


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