Category Archives: Sight and Sound

Lost in Paradise

After hearing mixed feedback from critics and film programmers, I’ve finally gotten to watch Ngoc Dan Vu’s Lost in Paradise which I find to be a memorable, haunting and beautiful feature that has captured the growing pains of an urban city in a Third World country. It’s also a sexy and queer love story about the disillusionment of modern gay life. Due to a lack of perspective on Third World cinema, one critic has unfairly called it ” the Hello Kitty version of a gay hustler melodrama.” But seriously Mr. Critic, have you ever had to prostitute yourself on the street?

Although the film does have its uneven moments, I have to admit that I still think about the movie weeks after watching it. The film is glossy yet dark. It’s schmaltzy yet brutal. It’s sexy yet sad. As a whole, the film does poignantly portray that disillusionment of modern city life in a developing country whether it is Vietnam or China. Continue reading

Stud Life’s Sold Out World Premiere

A little over a year ago, we did an interview with Campbell X  whose Stud Life was in the making. Stud Life is now coming out now to a film festival near you and will have its (already sold out or “fully booked”) world premiere at BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and the North American premiere at Outfest Fusion. Touted as an homage to Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, Stud Life is about the friendship between a young black lesbian and young gay man. The trailer looks hot!

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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Fall 1990 Part I: A Love Story About Two Freshmen at UCLA

“Fall 1990” was also very much another experimental film in the sense that it was my first experiment to make a traditional and compelling narrative film with a non-traditional protagonist that you still won’t see in a Hollywood film—a gay Asian American college student. I set out to write something that chronicled my politically active senior year at Berkeley. Ambitious enough to make a semi-period piece, I wrote “Fall 1990” in the fall of 1994 as my second year “Advanced Project” at UCLA.

I also just met UCLA film school senior Justin Lin. Bonded over founding APACT (Asian Pacific Coalition for Film, Theater and Television at UCLA),  I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to work with Justin who became the Director of Photography on the project. I can still remember driving up to the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival with Justin in March of 1994 right before shooting “Fall 1990” to screen our short films—my “Matricide” and his Spotlight Award winning “Soy Bean Milk.” We watched Kayo Hata’s Picture Bride together on the opening night of the festival. I remember Justin commenting all night about the exposure of the moon in that movie. Was a it 1/4 stop off or something? Continue reading

2 Gay Vampires and a Drag Queen

In 1994, when Max Almy showed us Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon” in her experimental film class at UCLA, I had already seen “Meshes” in another experimental class at Berkeley as an undergraduate. Since the first time I saw it, I have never forgotten how mysterious, surreal and emotional it is. So when we had to do a project in Max’s class, I knew I had to pay tribute to the masterpiece by making my own version about two gay vampires.

With both “Meshes” and Luis Buñuel’s “Un Chien Andalou” in mind, I wanted to make something about a young gay couple stuck in a stagnating relationship so I thought vampirism would be a good metaphor. And to frame their relationship somehow I saw this lonely drag queen who exists in a parallel universe. That was sort of the idea. Continue reading

Have You Ever Thought of Killing Your Mother?

The inspiration of “Matricide” came about a couple months before Christmas when my ex-boyfriend and I argued about where we should spend our Christmas… in Hong Kong or Taiwan… in LA or Orange County… with my mom or your mom? I suddenly realized that the central figure in both of our lives were our moms. For a long time, even though my mom was more emotionally available she wasn’t quite sympathetic to my being gay. And I really hated her for that.

My mother was controlling and manipulative. So she became my inspiration for “Matricide,” my 410 project at UCLA after “Hysterio Passio.” I wrote the script in Hal Ackerman’s screenwriting class and when I asked him for feedback he said, “I wouldn’t change a word. It’s perfect.” Really? I totally did not believe my professor. I was thought that he probably didn’t want to deal with this crazy gay Asian filmmaker. So I p0lished it up during that painful Christmas I spent with my ex-boyfriend whom I knew was breaking up with me… and I finished that script in the cold of New York when I went to help him settle down there for good over Christmas break.

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My Penis in My Movie

I know this is going get an X rating. But it’s not hard. And it’s my penis. I don’t know how I convinced myself to have done it, but I put my penis in my own first ever short film I made at UCLA Film School. This is probably the very same short film that Dustin Lance Black kept teasing me about every time I bumped into him at some queer cocktail party.

Stop it, Dustin! But what a perfect COCK-tail party icebreaker, right?

My first assignment at film school was to shoot a 2—5 min. 16mm film in 4 hours. It was really a camera exercise for our upcoming 410 project. What a 2—5 minute film can you make but an experimental queer short film, right?  I was very much inspired by my late Shakespeare professor Janet Adelman’s lecture on King Lear and so I decided to make a short film about the Renaissance term for male hysteria, “Hysterio Passio,” quoted directly from a King Lear speech. I was living with my ex-boyfriend then during the first year of film school and of course I had to put him in it. Continue reading

Safe Sex, Infection, Film School Et Cetera

One unexpected afternoon during my film school daze in my sunbathed Koreatown apartment, I received a call from the festival director of the Vancouver International Film Festival on my cordless phone.

“Is it going to be a world premiere?” asked Po Chu.

“Yeah…” I stammered. I guessed I had never shown my “first feature” Flow, a compilation of my student short films made at UCLA anywhere yet. I put “first feature” in quotes because I later decided that it was more of a feature compilation of my works as a graduate film student at UCLA rather than a real feature film.

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Almost the Best Lesbian Vampire Flick

Dennis Gansel’s We Are the Night is almost the best lesbian vampire flick… or perhaps one of the best vampire flicks in years. A young thievish girl stumbles into a lesbian club in Berlin and gets bitten by a female vampire who is the leader of a gang of three Amazonian vampires. According to our vampire girls, male vampires have extinguished themselves because of in-fighting or fighting with humans. It’s doubtlessly Amazonian, wouldn’t you say?

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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.

Beautiful Thing

by Jason

What’s a queer film that hits you right in the gut? I’m talking about that film that made you come out, or reaffirm who you are. For me that film is Beautiful Thing (1996), the tender coming of age story between a young outcast and a high school jock who fall in love with each other in the outskirts of London. It was a straightforward romance!  When that film came out, I was on my way to becoming a geologist. I didn’t know what to pursue and a career in the sciences seem like a good option that would set the bar for my siblings, and satisfy my parents.

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Russian Boys Chain Gang Humping Video

What is the meaning of this chain gang humping video with hot Russian boys spreading across Youtube like wildfire? Is it a joke, a satire or what? It’s definitely queerious. What do you think?

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Blast From the Past: Home for the Holidays

Recently I discovered Home for the Holidays, a Jodie Foster film. I was surprised to find Robert Downey Jr. playing a gay sibling who is too afraid to announce to his parents that he was married to his boyfriend. For a 1995 film, this was a very progressive image to have in theaters and kudos to Jodie Foster for having the courage to make such a film so close to Hollywood. Home for the Holidays starred Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Dylan McDermott, Steve Guttenberg, Cynthia Stevenson, and Claire Danes. It was made through Polygram Pictures, a film production company that differed from traditional Hollywood studios in that the power to make a film was decided by negotiations between producers, management and marketing rather than centralized in a small number of executives.

Fast forward 16 years and crowdsourcing (websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo) have largely replaced Polygram Pictures as a way to green light stories that would normally not be made in a traditional Hollywood studio model. Continue reading