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Asian Film  
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Ha Kil-jong's The Pollen of Flowers (1972), for example, is recognized as a subtle variation on Pasolini's Teorema (1968). Kim Su-hyeong's Ascetic: Woman and Woman (1976) is considered Korea's first lesbian film. It is a tragic protofeminist drama about two troubled women who erotically bond when one of them is abused by her husband.

In the 1990s, Park Jae-ho's Broken Branches (1995) emerged as a landmark in Korean cinema, an intergenerational gay romance, with moderately revealing sex scenes, whose intergenerational relationship becomes a metaphor for a new Korea reconciling its tenuous relationship with its conservative elders.

In 1997, the Seoul Queer Film and Video Festival was both founded and quickly banned by the government, attracting worldwide attention. Reinstated the following year with some success, it provides an overdue forum for queer films in Korea. However, most of the festival's films are not actually Korean. Moreover, the spotlighted feature of the proposed 1997 fest was in fact Wong Kar-wai's Hong Kong import Happy Together (1997). Meanwhile, the most recent development in indigenous queer film has been Kim Tae-yong and Min Kyu-dong's commercially successful adolescent lesbian ghost story Memento Mori (1999).

The Philippines and Thailand

Unlike Confucianist China and Korea, many Southeast Asian cultures have more open traditions of alternative sexuality. However, it should be noted that the sexual "openness" the West often perceives in Thailand and the Philippines is often based on prostitutional economies and class exploitation.

The most internationally recognized director of Philippine films, the late Lino Brocka, was also the one most associated with gay films. Brocka's Manila in the Claws of Light (1975) tells of a poor fisherman who turns to male prostitution in the big city, and My Mother, My Father (1978) is concerned with a transvestite father toiling under the class stratifications of the Marcos regime. The most influential gay Philippine film is certainly Brocka's Macho Dancer (1988), an engagingly lurid exploration of Manila's male sex trade that combines equal elements of neorealism, soft pornography, and Philippine melodrama.

Brocka's associate, Mel Chionglo (who scripted Brocka's 1979 Mother, Sister, Daughter) later turned the "macho dancer" melodrama into its own veritable subgenre with Midnight Dancers (1994) and Burlesk King (1999).

While Chionglo's glossy films tend to romanticize the sex trade while simultaneously critiquing the poverty that produces it, independent director Nick Deocampo's lower-budgeted Oliver (1983), Children of the Regime (1985), and Revolutions Happen Like Refrains in a Song (1987) take more critical looks at the socioeconomic links between male prostitution and class exploitation during and immediately after the Marcos era.

In Thailand, a gay melodramatic aesthetic, perhaps comparable to that of the Philippines, informs M. L. Bhandevanop Devakul's I Am a Man (1986), sort of a Thai Boys in the Band, as well as Pisan Akarasainee's The Last Song (1986) and Anguished Love (1987), a two-part series about the loves and losses among a star-crossed intersection of gays, lesbians, transvestites, and, yes, heterosexuals.

Recently, Youngyooth Thongkonthun's comedy Satree Lex (U.S. title, Iron Ladies [1999]), based on the remarkable true story of a champion Thai volleyball team comprised of gays and , proved something of a breakthrough in Thai cinema, becoming one of the biggest box office hits in Thai history.

Nevertheless, the film's popularity in Thailand may be attributed to the camp spectacle of its subject matter, as Thailand's kathoey () population, though far more visible than transsexuals in the West, is still marginalized and objectified. We might compare Thongkonthun's treatment of the subject with that of gay Hong Kong director Yonfan in his Singaporean film Bugis Street (1995), whose steamy images of transgendered desire make no concessions to straight audiences.


While openly politicized homosexuality in India is a recent, Westernized phenomenon, popular Indian cinema has long offered glimpses of alternative sexualities, though sometimes not in the most positive terms.

We might go back as far as Fearless Nadia (real name Mary Evans), the exotic, mannish Australian actress who starred in Homi Wadia's Hunterwali (1935) and other Hindi films as a kind of whip-wielding, "Perils of Pauline"-style heroine, and whose campy, gender-bending career is explored in Riyad Wadia's documentary Fearless: The Hunterwali Story (1993).

In the 1970s, the male buddy films of Hindi superstar Amitabh Bachchan, such as Ramesh Sippy's landmark Sholay (1975) and Raj Khosla's Dostana (1981), often featured homoerotic undercurrents that eclipse those of Hollywood's male buddy films. Sholay is, in fact, known for song sequences that valorize male Platonic love.

Bollywood cinema is, however, also known for its caricatures of gays and lesbians, and there are countless films featuring swishy men, such as the effeminate biker who lusts after the macho hero of Vikram Bhatt's Ghulam (1998), or sexless butch women, such as the cruel prison warden who punishes her lesbian charges in Jabbar Patel's Subhah (1981).

Hijras (transsexuals, eunuchs, or gender-ambiguous persons) and transvestites are also a fixture of Hindi cinema, yet usually as objects of derisive comedy or disgust, as in Rahul Rawail's Mast Kalandar (1991), Mahesh Bhatt's Sadak (1991), or Darmesh Darshan's popular Raja Hindustani (1996). While a film such as Mani Ratnam's Bombay (1995) may briefly provide a sympathetic hijra, the continuing persecution of hijra communities remains a critical social problem throughout India.

In the 1990s, a number of independent, liberal, English-language queer Indian films emerged to challenge conventional Bollywood morality, the best-known of which is Deepa Mehta's Canadian-produced Fire (1996). The feminist lesbianism of the film provoked outrage among the Hindu patriarchy and fundamentalists; and the film lived up to its name when arson and bombings rocked Indian theaters that dared show it.

Fire was immediately preceded, however, by Riyad Wadia's BOMgaY (1996), a short experimental film based on the verse of gay Indian poet Raj Rao, which celebrates gay Indian life while critiquing the government's homophobic anti-sodomy statutes. Though BOMgaY (which was shot on video) did not receive any public screenings, its existence spread quickly through the Indian press, and became an immediate topic of controversy.

Recently, feature length films such as Kaizad Gustad's Bombay Boys (1998) and Dev Benegal's Split Wide Open (1999) have continued to address the politics of Indian gay identity. Admittedly, however, these films are considered semi-commercial in India and are not aimed at a populist Hindi demographic.

Bombay Boys, the story of three overseas, Anglicized Indians who come to Bombay in search of their political, familial, and sexual identities, particularly draws connections between transnational identity and a burgeoning Indian gayness. This may be a sign that, as Asian films are increasingly products of transnational distribution, the politics and sexualities they engage may necessarily and inevitably become caught between imported ideas of Western queerness and the struggle to maintain an Eastern, autonomous self-identity.

Andrew Grossman

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social sciences >> Overview:  China

The only contemporary civilization with written materials dating back some 3500 years, China boasts a rich, 2500-year-old continuous tradition of male-male love, as well as somewhat less rich traditions of what we would now call lesbianism and gender nonconformity.

arts >> Overview:  Hong Kong Film

Filmmaking in Hong Kong eventually came to terms with, exploited, and often blurred the lines between Chinese traditions of gender ambiguity and Westernized "out" politics.

social sciences >> Overview:  India

Indian thought towards same-sex eroticism and gender variance was more tolerant in the past than it is today.

arts >> Overview:  Japanese Film

Offering visions of sexual transgression divorced from Western political correctness and assimilationist civil rights ideals, Japanese queer cinema is unique.

social sciences >> Overview:  The Philippines

Although the Philippines are sometimes extolled in the West as a homoerotic paradise, attitudes toward same-sex sexual activity in Filipino society are complex and ambivalent.

social sciences >> Overview:  Taiwan

Since 1987 a vibrant, politicised, and diverse public queer culture has emerged on the island of Taiwan, though not without controversy.

social sciences >> Overview:  Thailand

Although Thailand enjoys an international reputation for openness, acceptance, and availability in sexual matters, the realities surrounding gender and sexual diversity are complex and ambivalent.

arts >> Dattani, Mahesh

Indian playwright, screenwriter, dancer, director, and actor Mahesh Dattani is an important figure in South Asian gay culture by virtue of his recurrent depiction of queer characters.

arts >> Pasolini, Pier Paolo

One of the most important cultural figures to emerge from post-World War II Italy, Pier Paolo Pasolini was a versatile man-of-letters, but he was foremost a filmmaker.


Berry, Chris. A Bit on the Side: East-West Topographies of Desire. Sydney: EM Press:1994.

Grossman, Andrew, ed. Queer Asian Cinema: Shadows in the Shade. Binghamton, N.Y.:Harrington Park Press, 2000.

Kwan, Stanley. Yang and Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema. Hong Kong: Media Asia, 1996.

Wadia, Riyad Vinci, dir. Fearless: The Hunterwali Story (documentary film). Bombay/New York: Wadia Movietone, 1993.

Yang, Mayfair Mei-hui. Spaces of Their Own: Women's Public Sphere in Transnational China. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.


    Citation Information
    Author: Grossman, Andrew  
    Entry Title: Asian Film  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 26, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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