10 great gay films from East and Southeast Asia

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Take a look at the best gay films from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

Director Toshio Matsumoto

Hold on tight, as Funeral Parade of Roses takes you on an outrageous journey through sex, drugs, drag and Oedipal horror, in a weird and rather terrifying walk on the wild side. The bananas plot is pure camp: transvestite performer Eddie (played by Peter, later the fool in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985)) strikes up a fierce rivalry with another drag queen in Shinjuku Ni-chōme, Tokyo’s gay ghetto. Eddie tries to forget harrowing memories of killing his mother – and anyone who knows their Greek tragedy will second-guess the identity of the manager of a gay bar with whom he then shacks up.

A direct influence on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), Funeral Parade of Roses gleefully subverts all notion of respectability, giving the viewer an unashamed snapshot of 1960s Japanese gay subculture on the way, as queers in Tokyo speak their minds to the camera.

Farewell My Concubine (1993)

Director Chen Kaige

The unrequited gay love story at the heart of Chen Kaige’s Palme d’Or-winning masterpiece is often overlooked, with critics concentrating their admiration on the incredibly ambitious scope of the film, taking in over half a century of Chinese history. It follows the friendship of two men, brought up through the strict training of the Peking Opera School. Dieyi (Leslie Cheung) has been trained in female roles, and plays the concubine to the King of Chu, played by his friend Xiaolou (Zhang Fengyi). Dieyi falls in love with Xiaolou, but the latter marries a prostitute (Gong Li, excellent), ushering in a complex saga of love and betrayal.

Cheung is remarkable as the tragic figure of Dieyi, a damaged and abused individual who resorts to dreadful betrayal when threatened by the Red Guards. Cheung, who came out as bisexual, was a hugely successful pop star in Hong Kong as well as an acclaimed actor, starring in several films by Wong Kar-wai, including Happy Together (1997). After years of suffering from depression, he killed himself in 2003.

East Palace, West Palace (1996)

Director Zhang Yuan

Power play is a major theme of this intense drama, in which a gay man is apprehended while cruising in a park and spends the night in a police station under the stern eye of the arresting officer. As the detainee tells the disapproving cop about his tumultuous life, it becomes clear he is subtly trying to seduce the masculine policeman. When the officer releases the gay man from custody, he refuses to leave, and things takes turn for the twisted. Jean Genet would have loved it.

The Chinese Film Bureau weren’t fans of this subversive work, and confiscated director Zhang Yuan’s passport. Opting to use a gay man to symbolise free spirits and a possibly homosexual guard to represent Chinese authority was a risky move, complicated by the former’s sado-masochistic declaration of love for his captor. Despite a low budget, it’s a beautiful and highly provocative work. The title is a reference to the parks flanking the Forbidden City, popular cruising grounds for Beijing’s gay men.

Happy Together (1997)

Director Wong Kar-wai

This is one of the coolest gay films ever made, a vivid and exhilarating depiction of two men from Hong Kong – Lai (Tony Leung) and Ho (Leslie Cheung) – in an intense on-again-off-again relationship, who travel to Argentina to visit Iguazu Falls, but end up repeating the cycle of infidelity and cruelty. After yet another break-up, Lai meets the handsome and possibly gay Chang, whose friendship jolts Lai into facing up to his responsibilities, and offers a chance of happiness and redemption.

Wong Kar-wai enjoyed an extraordinary string of success from 1990-2000, includingChungking Express (1994), the perfect date movie, and In the Mood for Love (2000), one of cinema’s greatest love stories. Happy Together, which won him the best director award at Cannes, is one of his best, with a terrific central performance from Leung as a young, insecure man yearning for romance. As so often with Wong Kar-wai, the last shot, accompanied by a brassy cover of the title song, is unforgettable.

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