A couple of years ago the Internet was all falling for the beautiful relationship of Ellie and Aster in the coming-of-age Netflix production The Half Of It (2020); many were appreciative of the Asian and/or LGBTQ+ coverage that empowers teens who are still figuring out their sexual orientation. In the ’80s and ’90s when an open discussion of sexuality was frowned upon, Hong Kong cinema was already vocal for the community via numerous productions that are still considered LGBTQ+ classics today. This week, we have put together 8 Asian films that you should watch in celebration of Pride Month.
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai, Happy Together is both a Hong Kong and LGBTQ+ classic that needs no further introduction. Starring Hong Kong’s icons Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung, the film portrayed the on-and-off relationship of Ho Po-Wing (played by Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-Fai (played by Tony Leung). Wong was crowned Best Director in the 1997 Cannes Film Festival with Tony Leung awarded Best Actor in the 17th Hong Kong Film Awards, while the 34th Golden Horse Awards named Christopher Doyle for Best Cinematography.
Where to watch Happy Together: Netflix Korea, Netflix Thailand
Farewell My Concubine is another important production that made Leslie Cheung Hong Kong’s gay icon. The film tells the troubled love story of two Peking opera actors Cheng Dieyi (played by Leslie Cheung) and Duan Xiaolou (Zhang Fengyi) that crosses the early days of the Republic to the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Besides the main plot, the actors’ portrayal of the gender-fluid characters is influential as it showed Hong Kong the world outside of gender dichotomy. Directed by Chen Kaige, the Chinese period movie won him Best Director awards from the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, 47th British Academy Film Awards, 51st Golden Globe Awards and more.
Where to watch Farewell My Concubine: Netflix Taiwan
Over the years, Hong Kong cinema integrated telling gay love tales with covering stories of more depth and starring different sexual minority groups. Jun Li’s Tracey follows a 51-year-old dad, and the audience eventually discovers the protagonist’s struggle to oppress his urge for feminization and transexual tendency. Casting Phillip Keung, an actor known for his masculine roles in local productions, Tracey breaks gender stereotypes in many ways and its success is celebrated by numerous awards from the 37th Hong Kong Film Awards, 55th Golden Horse Awards and 13th Asian Film Awards.
Where to watch Tracey: Panorama Entertainment E-shop
Translating to “uncle” in Cantonese, Suk Suk approaches LBGTQ+ in a less conventional way by telling the story of two retired family men. Actor Tai Bo’s performance of the complex and contradictory Pak had won him Best Actor in the 39th Hong Kong Film Awards. The unusual film also wowed the international audience and received multiple acting and directing awards in numerous LGBT film festivals like Madrid LGBTQ International Film Festival, Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, LGBT Film Fest and Santo Domingo OutFest.
Where to watch Suk Suk: viu
Directed by Stanley Kwan, also a Hong Kong director, Lan Yu is another important production in Chinese cinema that speaks about homosexual romance, while drawing references to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. The tragic film is a metaphor for many real-life inside-the-closet stories in Chinese society, or any other culture that sees heterosexual relationships as the only possible form of romantic relationship.
Where to watch Lan Yu: Netflix Taiwan
Being the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage, it is no surprise that Taiwan is vocal about LGBTQ+ rights and equality in its cinema. One of the hidden gems of 2018, Meg Hsu’s Dear Ex explores the complex love-hate relationship between Liu San-lian (played by Hsieh Ying-xuan) and her late husband’s secret love interest Jay (played by Roy Chiu). More than just a love story, the film searches for a new definition of family while touching on the tabooed teacher-student romance.
Where to watch Dear Ex: Netflix Hong Kong
Widely received in Chinese-speaking countries in 2020, Your Name Engraved Herein, set in the ’80s, follows Chang Jia-han (played by Edward Chen Hao-Sen) as he encounters his love interest Birdy (played by Jing-Hua Tseng). Many resonated with the characters for their detailed depiction of hesitation in starting a relationship in a seemingly homophobic society. Besides winning technical awards from the 57th Golden Horse Awards, Your Name Engraved Herein is also the first gay-themed film to exceed NT$100 million at the Taiwanese box office.
Where to watch Your Name Engraved Herein: Netflix Hong Kong
Released in South Korea in 2016, The Handmaiden is an erotic psychological thriller where Izumi Hideko (played by Kim Min-hee) develops a romantic relationship with her maid Nam Sook-hee (played by Kim Tae-ri), who is a conman’s snitch in disguise to steal the Lady’s inheritance. The intricate film welcomed international fame and has won awards from numerous film awards including the 71st British Academy Film Awards, 69th Cannes Film Festival, 53rd Baeksang Arts Awards, and 37th Blue Dragon Film Awards.