Author Archives: Tin

Crossing the Hu-Du-Men

-a term from Cantonese Opera. It refers to an imaginary line between the stage and the backstage area. When actors cross the “Hu-Du-Men”, they should forget themselves and become their roles.

The opening shot of the 1996 Hong Kong film explains the origin of its title, which serves as a motif throughout the film. This wonderful comedy-drama by director Shu Kei tells the story of a famed Cantonese Opera performer Lang Kim-sum (played by the amazing Josephine Siao Fong-fong), who specializes in portraying male roles on the opera stage, and her struggle to juggle many different roles in life, both on and off stage. It has been over ten years since I first saw this film and, much to my delight, I re-watched it recently as I was conducting more research for my short film Memory of a Butterfly, a lesbian love story with Chinese Opera elements, that is based on my feature project.

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Other Nature

Hello Queerious folks!

Please excuse my absence for the last few months as I was occupied by making my short film Memory of a Butterfly. As some of you may remember, my first Queerious post ever was about LGBT in Nepal and the documentary, Other Nature, directed by a dear friend of mine, Miss Nani Sahra Walker. As the film is now near its completion and is currently seeking a distributor in Europe and the U.S., it’s only fitting for my return to Queerious with an interview with the talented Miss Walker, who worked with me on our film Coming in From the Cold, which premiered at the British Film Institute and Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Other Nature is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the life experiences of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and third gender community of Nepal, as the country transitions to a federal republic after 240 years of monarchy. More specifically, it documents the pilgrimage two third gender human right activists make to Muktinath, a temple in the Himalayas, to pray for gender equality. The stories of a runaway lesbian couple from Kolkata and another lesbian couple that was unjustly discharged from the Nepali Army are also included; while the challenges faced by third gender sex workers highlight the struggles faced by the LGBT community in Nepal to realize their right to self-determination. The film has been screened in a dozen cities from Vancouver, Brussels to Mumbai.

Tin Lee: Would you tell us more about Third Gender? How does it differ from lesbian, gay and bisexuals if there are any differences?

Nani Sahra Walker: Third Gender is a term used historically in both the East and the West to refer to transgender individuals. In the Hindu Vedic texts,Tritriya Prakriti appears as a distinct gender identification, Third or Other Nature. Tritriya Prakriti emerges time and again in Hindu mythology from the Vedas to the Ramayana and Mahabharata (something like the Odyssey and Iliad of India, only 10-fold in length).

While in the West, third gender would be equated to “transgender,” in Nepal most butch women consider themselves “third gender” and even a lot of gay men who appeared as guys during the day, considered themselves third gender because they liked to dress up at night.

TL: What is the inspiration for the project?

NSW: OTHER NATURE emerged as a curiosity about how a country like Nepal considered “impoverished” and “medieval” by Western media became the first in the world to grant third gender citizenship and make such advancements in human rights issues.

In 2001 I read that a small organization was organized for the rights of sexual minorities – Blue Diamond Society. It was a glimmer of a new beginning, a possibility for radical change and a step towards advancement. I followed the Blue Diamond Society online for many years. In 2008 when the Supreme Court passed a legislation protecting the rights of the LGBT community and granting third gender citizenship, I knew I had to go to Nepal and make a film. Much of the representation of Nepal has always been centered on the Himalayas, either exotifying the mountains or focusing on the poverty.

TL: Can you tell us more about the Blue Diamond Society?

NSW: Blue Diamond Society was founded in 2001 by Sunil Babu Pant and a handful of people who felt the need to protect LGBT rights in Nepal. After monarchy toppled, there were a lot of people standing up for their rights like women, low-caste and indigenous groups that had all been squelched under the 240 year regime. It was the right moment to start an LGBT organization and demand freedom and equality!

TL: The pilgrimage to Muktinah, was it difficult?

NSW: Well, we were lucky that the roads were built by that time. Just a decade ago, there were no roads to Muktinath, so it would have been a really tough journey, weeks of walking. But surely, it was a difficult journey especially because we traveled in May on the cusp of monsoon and there were a lot of floods along the way. At one point, I remember it was like an obstacle course.  On a dirt road along the hillside, we spent one afternoon laying rocks on the flooded roads, already a detour from the towns we avoided due to riots and demonstrations.

The journey Bhumika and Badri take to Muktinath is by and large the axis on which this project rests. We traveled 9 days on unpaved flooded roads, trying our best to beat the rains before landslides would make it impossible to bear the terrain. The road trip put us up against all the forces of nature, and tested our intentions. The journey is much like the process of attaining equal rights.

TL: Did you feel that was also a pilgrimage for yourself?

NSW: Yes, not for much for religious factors but to take such a journey and realize what’s at stake. A 14-year old boy was killed by a falling boulder along the road just 5 minutes before us after we returned shooting Badri’s village. This stirred a lot of silence and awe. What it takes to want something so bad and how along the way, it’s all about the process.

TL: Were you raised in Nepal? Do you feel that Nepal is where your roots are?

I was born in Nepal and came to the US when I was 10. I feel a strong connection to Nepal in the sense that all my childhood memories take me back to Nepal. But, of course my adolescence and higher education was completed in the US and Japan so I don’t have a sense of belonging solely to Nepal, or solely to the US. My roots are everywhere and nowhere.

TL: Given the subject matter, did you encounter any problems while filming in Nepal?

NSW: We had many heads turn especially during the shoot but all in all we had a smooth production experience. Nepal has a small but vibrant production industry. We found people were kind, helpful and full of good spirits.

TL: Ah that’s always nice to hear. What was the most perilous situations you found yourself in while filming there?

NSW: While we were shooting the sex workers, we found ourselves in the crossfire between the police, the mafia and the sex workers. It was pretty scary some nights, and on our last night the police made a SPECIAL warning that we would be arrested if we are seen shooting in these parts again. I guess, it was like a territorial war because our cameras protected the sex workers in a way from the usual harassment and violence used to crack down on prostitution.

TL: How is the state of affairs for LGBT community in Nepal now?

NSW: It is all a process, so it continues. Although Nepal might look like an advanced country on paper, in law, there’s no constitution in place so it’s a pretty chaotic place and I think the LGBT community continues to work and create more visibility and understanding. Sunil Babu Pant is in the process of opening an LGBT center in Kathmandu so I think this will help as a place of refuge, building and solidifying.

TL: Was it difficult to find funding?

NSW: Funding independent films always requires imagination, desire, courage and persistence. I worked 3 jobs to save the first lump sum and then a few fundraisers. I had a lot of support so I feel grateful. As we’re In the process of distribution now, it’s the same kind of game. I think crowd-funding platforms are a great resource for independent filmmakers.

TL: What advice would you give to struggling indie queer filmmakers when they set out to do a project of their own?

NSW: Have a clear idea of your project, put your plan on paper and give 200%. Seek like-minded people to collaborate with and connect with an umbrella organization for tools and resources. Be patient and persistent.

At the moment Other Nature is raising funds to hire a composer. Check out how you can help this amazing project.

Woman Demon Human Me

by Tin

Things have been awfully quiet here on Queerious, partly because our editor-in-chief Quentin is too busy directing a great project. If you haven’t heard about it yet, you should.

As an independent filmmaker myself, I of course aspire to be as accomplished a director as Quentin is one day. I am actually working on a (much smaller) project of my own, a short film with a lesbian love story and a Chinese Opera theme.
There will never be enough space on this blog to discuss the arts and (over 200 years) history  of Chinese Opera. The Illuminated Lantern has done a great job at providing a short history.

My history with Chinese Opera began as child when I attended a lot of performances with my aunt in Hong Kong. My aunt has always been a Chinese Opera enthusiast and still performs opera plays as a hobby today. Like most children, I dismissed the ancient art as monotonous plays and ghastly noise. It was not until years later when I attended a performance put on by my aunt and her amateur Cantonese Opera group did I begin to appreciate the aesthetics and subtleties of Chinese Opera, and the discipline it requires. Subtleties, the ability to illicit the grandest emotions and convey the deepest message by the smallest gestures or images, have always been what I strive for in my films. Combining the medium of film and the ancient art of Chinese Opera seems to me is a perfect union.

When one talks about Chinese Opera in cinema, the more celebrated films like Chen Kaige’s Farewell, My Concubine and his recent Forever Enthralled, or even the more commercial, lighthearted Peking Opera Blues by Hong Kong director Tsui Hark will come to mind.

But one of the greatest inspirations on this project for me is the under-appreciated (at least at the time of its release) and obscure 1987 film Woman Demon Human by director Huang Shuqin, one of the very few prominent female filmmakers in mainland China. Continue reading

I Will Keep My Last Name and You Should Give Me My Money

by Tin

I grew up in a traditional village in Hong Kong. It was a place where almost everyone shared the same last name and was related to each other to a different degree (I still don’t understand how exactly. I just remembered  I had to call this person my remote third cousin and that my second paternal uncle even though he was not my father’s biological brother.) In our village if you were a boy, you would receive a share of the profit whenever the elders sold a piece of land that belonged to our village. This practice is also prevalent at other villages with people of the same family name.

This is just one of the reasons Chinese parents prefer to have boys than girls. The blatant sexism in countries like China, India, and Japan is of course not a secret to the world. Chinese parents prefer boys because boys can provide better labor and, most important of all, carry the family name since when a Chinese girl gets married, she automatically assumes the last name of her spouse and is no longer a part of her biological family but her husband’s. There is an old saying in Chinese, “giving away your daughter in marriage is like splashing a bucket of water; you can’t get either back”, that pretty much sums up the mentality of Chinese folks.

Why am I bothering you with my left-over childhood bitterness? Continue reading

Proud to be Possessed

by Tin

Before I start this week’s post I would like to declare that I am indeed a queer identifying female writing this blog since lately there have been so much news about fake lesbian blog and lesbian news site that were actually authored by straight males. Yes, I am talking about you, Tom MacMaster, and you, Bill Graber. Tsk-tsk…

I am not saying that you have to be a lesbian to write about lesbian-related issues but I think you lose a lot of integrity if you start off by lying about who you are even if you have made valid arguments concerning LGBT issues.

And tsk-tsk at the Hong Kong government. That’s right. I am shamed by my home city as the Hong Kong government has recently recruited a famous local psychiatrist, Mr. Kwai-wah Hong, who claims he can “cure” homosexuals as a trainer for the staff of the social welfare department. According to  Agence France-Presse, “critics said the move could be the world’s first government-sponsored training session on gay conversion therapy, which includes prayer, cold showers and practising abstinence as a way to avoid same-sex relationships.”

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All About Durian

by Tin

Last weekend I was invited to a lesbian friendly poker party. Alternating between making bets and small talk, I commented to my Chinese friend on how envious I was every time I saw a Facebook post from her about discovering a new durian flavored treat. Upon hearing my comment our gracious host ran to fetch me a durian popsicle from the freezer. As I gently unwrapped the plastic cover, everyone fled from the poker table (alright two people remained but of course one was the now not-so-gracious host and the other one also eating a durian popsicle). Windows were immediately opened. People were fanning themselves.

I took a bite out of the popsicle. It was an orgy in my mouth.

I grew up gorging on the famously (infamously?) putrid yet succulent “king of fruits” every summer. But ever since I moved Stateside, I have always had roommates and never dared to bring a fresh durian home at the risk of being murdered in my sleep. Not only does it taste and SMELL delicious to me, as cliché as it may sound, durian has always reminded me of my childhood in Hong Kong. Due to its smell and sticky yellow texture, durian is nicknamed “cat poo” by Chinese.

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TV Lesbians Anonymous

by Tin

I have always had a rather unhealthy obsession with TV lesbian couples. And by unhealthy I mean when I get addicted to a particular lesbian couple on a show, even though they are not major characters, I would watch and re-watch clips that only feature my lesbian favorite couple. I would frequent fan sites that are created for that couple, read all the fanfiction and even download music that is used during their scenes and is associated with them.

And, judging from the gazillion fan sites and Youtube channels dedicated to specific TV lesbian couples, I am not the only one. By no means am I suggesting that lesbians are the only people who will be obsessed with certain fictional characters on a TV show or movie or even in literature. After all, ever since the dawn of entertainment and culture, there have always been people who have a hard time separating reality from fiction (hello stalkers!).

But I’d like to think there is something more to my obsession with lesbian couples on television. The most obvious reason being that “good” fictional lesbian couples are a rarity on TV, especially mainstream TV. Let’s face it. More often than not lesbian/bisexual characters are merely used as pawns and stunts in the Nielsen ratings battle between different networks. Some female characters that have been portrayed as straight will suddenly have a lesbian fling and/or experiment in same-sex smooches during sweeps months, hence the term “sweeps lesbianism“. It is hard to find a TV lesbian couple with a well-developed, realistic and romantic storyline from them meeting for the first time, dealing/struggling with their feelings for one another to falling in love without catering to sensationalism.

What about The L Word, you may ask, that was a show dedicated ENTIRELY to queer women? Continue reading

Ikea Assembly Instructions For A Lesbian Bar

by Tin

I love Ikea. There, I said it. But as much as I love their (relatively) cheap yet sleek furniture I loathe the assembly process because I suck at following instructions the instructions are unnecessarily convoluted. But after seeing how others have created Ikea instructions for EVERYTHING and even one for a lesbian relationship, I decided to have a little fun and make one of my own.

Behold the Ikea Assembly Instructions for a Lesbian Bar:

Some of you may not agree with my version of a lesbian bar.

Fine then, make your own!

[Disclaimer: This post is NOT endorsed by Pabst Brewing Company]


by Tin

As some of my fellow bloggers will agree, being an independent filmmaker is no picnic. Being a queer woman of color and a filmmaker is even more difficult for obvious reasons that deserve a whole different blog, no, an entire essay to discuss. That is why a non-profit organization such as the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) exists. Their mission is to promote “the creation, exhibition and distribution of new films and videos that increase the visibility of queer women of color, authentically reflect our life stories, and address the vital social justice issues that concern our communities.”

I have yet to have the fortune of participating in one of their amazing FREE filmmaking workshops (four each year) “specifically for youth (ages 18 to 25), queer folks of color who are butch/genderqueer/transgender, Asian/Pacific Islander (API), Black/African descent, and Chicanas/Latinas.” Continue reading

The Ever Changing Anita Mui

by Tin

Leslie and Anita

As I have paid tribute to the founding father of cantopop Leslie Cheung (Gor Gor), it’s only fitting for me to do the same for the mother of cantopop Anita Mui Yim Fong (Mui Jie, literally Big Sister Mui. Yes we like to call our stars sisters and brothers. Deal with it.) When I was a little kid, I would dim the light, put on her song “將冰山劈開” (“Break open an iceberg“) and danced my socks off. The song is catchy, campy and lots of fun. Check it out!

To Call her a queer icon is a no-brainer. Touted as the Madonna a.k.a the Queen of Reinvention (or Lady Gaga for you young ones) of Asia, Mui Jie was also called a “ever changing” performer. She was a style icon in the 80s with her “bad girl” image. Continue reading

Lesbian Porn-sumption

by Tin

Me: How often do you watch porn?
Lesbian Friend: Never really. I watched that one I lent you because I liked the filmmaker.
Me: So you don’t watch porn when you masturbate?
Lesbian Friend: No. I watch Xena!

Last week I blogged about how a 3D softcore porn took over the Hong Kong box office. Since then porn has become a somewhat popular topic among me and my Lebanese lesbian friends. Continue reading

3D Sex and Cents

by Tin

The biggest film-related news in Hong Kong last week was not the conclusion of the 2011 Hong Kong Film Awards. It was, as some of you may know, that a 3D soft-core erotic comedy, 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, which took the box office by the storm. It even topped the first-day record previously set by Dances With Smurfs Avatar (see, you shouldn’t have cut out that sex scene, Mr. Cameron). Hustler has made a horrible XXX parody of Avatar in 2010, if you haven’t heard. Oh the irony!

Just when I wish thought that 3D technology would become a dying fad as no other films have enjoyed the same amount of success as Avatar. Continue reading

Remembering Gor Gor

by Tin

Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing (1956-2003)

As I was watching Happy Together for the thousandth time, it struck me that this month was the eighth anniversary of the untimely death of Leslie Cheung, nicknamed elder brother (pronounced “gor gor” in Cantonese). If Michael Jackson and James Dean had a love child who was Chinese, it would be the prolific singer/actor Leslie. As you may have already known, not only was he “one of the founding fathers of Cantopop,” he was also voted the most favorite actor in Chinese cinema.

Openly bisexual in the later half of his career, Gor Gor did not shy away from queer roles in films. His film roles were as iconic in Hong Kong film history as they were to the Hong Kong psyche since the 80s. His persona embodied both the masculine and the feminine.

Here is a list of my favorite roles of Gor Gor:

Ling Choi Sin–A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

As the clumsy and handsome scholar, he stole the heart of the gorgeous spirit played by Joey Wang (Yum!). Continue reading