July 10, 2002




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NINE YEARS AGO , at the S.F. International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, I sat down to my first ever Hong Kong film, The East is Red. My mouth dropped open five minutes into the film and hasn't closed yet. Now every year I scour the area's film festivals for Asian titles I haven't seen. Unfortunately subtitled prints of Asian films are hard to come by even in an Asian populated, film-loving city like San Francisco. And gay, lesbian, bi-, and trans films from Asia are even harder to come by; typically only a handful of selections are shown each year. So imagine my surprise when this year's program featured "Tsunami Warning," a special section with more than 40 offerings.

Homosexuality in Asian cinema is finally being at least discussed, if not celebrated. In fact, a true benchmark of acceptance just occurred this past June, when the first official Taiwanese Gay and Lesbian Film Festival happened. (Last year an underground fest was held at a few gay bars). And advances are clearly being made if this year's legion of films are any indication.

As an example I actually saw three mainstream films from highly conservative South Korea (Road Movie, Running Blue, and Bungee Jumping of their Own) in this year's featival. Sadly the plots were often bleak as all three films culminated in self-loathing suicides. Yet a boldly liberal message permeated these narratives; your one and only soulmate might actually be hiding in a same sex partner.

Furthermore many of the films in this program centered on creating a positive support system. An example of these queer family values was seen in the poignant and hilarious Japanese masterpiece Hush! A young gay couple, and the woman who wants to have a baby by one of them, try to fit into each others', as well as their families', lives. And in the Chinese film, Fish and Elephant, Xiao Qun and her single mother finally both find lovers and an understanding. Moreover, a makeshift family of caring friends were featured in many of this year's thoughtful entries. In Taiwan's Incidental Journey two emotionally wounded strangers begin to heal with the help of an ex-lover and her new husband. The Japanese shorts Sugar Sweet and 3-Second Melancholy both portray close-knit cliques of frisky lesbians. And in Hong Kong's Spacked Out neglected teenage girls form a loving bond that keeps them from falling into utter despair.

All in all the films I viewed this year were more sophisticated, more meaningful, and better funded than in years past. And now that this year's Tsunami has passed I find myself anxiously awaiting the next storm. (Jennifer Young)