Now in its fourth year, Queer East will return to cinema screens across the capital and around the UK in 2023 with another exciting line-up which mixes contemporary feature film and documentary with retrospective screenings, short films, artists’ moving image works, a VR cinematic experience and dance productions that explore a diverse range of topical LGBTQ+ issues. Through an incredible programme of cinema and performance art the festival will push boundaries and challenge expectations and labels commonly associated with queer communities. Queer East’s vital programme is sure to provoke, inspire and engage.
Consisting of a main festival which will take from 18 to 30 April 2023 across eight venues in London, and a nationwide tour planned from September to November across ten cities, Queer East 2023 features 50 films incorporating work from 17 countries across East and Southeast Asia and beyond.
New additions to this year’s festival include Focus Korea which consists of 15 titles spanning from the 1960s to the present and reveal a surprisingly vibrant tradition of queer filmmaking across the decades in Korea, despite the country’s conservative social attitude to LGBTQ+ rights. Collaborations with guests filmmakers worldwide have led to expanded Shorts and Artists’ Moving Image Programmes which offer more in-depth explorations in the current queer landscape of East and Southeast Asia. Many films in this year’s programme share the common themes of queer and gender performance, from cross-dressing to gender-reversed casting, these works highlight playful and fluid queerness, showcasing the ways that gender and sexuality have been viewed and interpreted by filmmakers in different Asian cultural contexts. Not stopping with film, this year’s festival is working in partnership with leading London dance venue The Place to welcome two international dance productions, Robin Numanong’s Cyborg DNA and Choy Ka Fai’s Yishun is Burning. These exceptional performance works highlight the themes of queer performance which are central to this year’s programme, offering an alternative way of navigating intersections between technology, digital art, physical movement, and queer identities.
Queer East 2023 begins on 18 April at BFI Southbank with an Opening Night Gala UK Premiere screening of hilarious high-camp comedy I Love You, Beksman (Philippines, 2022). From director Percival Intalan (Dementia, 2014; Born Beautiful, 2019) the film follows glamorous make-up artist and fashion designer Dali, who is assumed by his friends, colleagues, and queer family to be gay. But when Dali falls for beauty pageant queen Angel, he’s forced to finally come out as straight… the problem is, nobody believes him, not even Angel. Packed with music and laughter, I Love You, Beksman is a joyous and uplifting exploration of identity packed with fun performances from its ensemble cast, and with a charming and earnest lead in award-winning young actor Christian Bables. This UK Premiere screening follows its International Premiere at the recent International Film Festival Rotterdam.
Finishing the festival at Barbican Cinema on 30 April, this year’s Closing Gala is the UK Premiere of Home Ground (South Korea, 2022), a poignant documentary about Korea’s first lesbian bar, Lesbos. Since 1976 when women-only cafe Chanel was closed down after a baseless police raid, the city’s lesbian community had been left with nowhere to call their own… until Lesbos opened its doors in 1996. Charting the bar’s history through the experience of bar-owner Myong-woo, this touching film chronicles times of struggle but also finds hope as Myong-woo reunites the community from Chanel, and Lesbos is discovered by a new generation of young women. Home Ground is an affecting portrait of a woman determined to provide refuge for her city’s ever-expanding queer community, and is a vital piece of contemporary Korean LGBTQ+ filmmaking.
The global phenomenon of Korean Wave showcases the country’s hyper energetic and vibrant pop culture and film productions, but discussions on its queer filmmaking still remain under the radar. Korea has a long history of queer filmmaking that goes way beyond the recent boom of Boy’s Love dramas. This year’s ‘Focus Korea’ strand seeks to highlight South Korea and provide audiences a chance to see a snapshot of the country’s diverse queer storytelling and the current queer landscape through various forms including fiction, documentary and even VR film. Featuring a mix of new and retrospective titles, the programme takes us back to the 60s for a screening of legendary South Korean director Shin Sang-ok’s A Man and a Gisaeng (Dir. Shin Sang-ok, Shim Wu-soeb, South Korea, 1969), which sees a young man who loses his job for being ‘unmanly’ decide to dress as a woman and work as a gisaeng (a woman from the lower classes trained to be a courtesan); Song Kyung-shik’s daring drama Sa Bangji (South Korea, 1988), screening in a stunning 4K restoration, follows the tragic, violent and sexual life of a hermaphrodite raised in a monastery and their journey into the world; a surprisingly nuanced representation of queer characters comes to the fore in 90s horror Memento Mori (Kim Tae-yong, Min Kyu-dong, South Korea, 1999), in which a schoolgirl finds a secret diary and discovers two of her friends are engaged in a forbidden affair. When one of the girls turns up dead the tranquil school is transformed into a morbid place of terror; an early work from South Korea’s period drama specialist Lee Joon-ik (Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet, 2016; The Book of Fish, 2021) King and the Clown (South Korea, 2005) sees two travelling jesters become ensnared in a web of dangerous desire; director Kim Kyung-mook’s poetic and stylish Stateless Things (South Korea, 2011) examines the precarious existence of two ‘stateless’ young men, one a defector from North Korea and the other a Chinese immigrant; director Kim Bo-ra earned numerous festival plaudits, including at Berlin and Busan, for her warmly nostalgic coming-of-age debut feature House of Hummingbird (South Korea, 2018) in which Eun-hee (Park Ji-hu, now starring in Netflix’s All of Us Are Dead) finds her world changes when a new, free-spirited tutor arrives at the school; Byun Sung-bin graduates from award-winning shorts to his feature film debut with compelling family drama Peafowl (South Korea, 2022), the story of a transgender dancer who is forced to return to her rural hometown after the death of her father. Closing Gala Home Ground (Dir. Kwon Aram, South Korea, 2022) will also play as part of the strand. Also included within Focus Korea is 5.25m2 (South Korea, 2022), a haunting cinematic VR experience, presented in collaboration with BFI Expanded, which imprisons viewers in a solitary confinement cell – Stateless Things director Kim Kyung-mook’s prison after he was sentenced to 18 months for objecting to Korea’s mandatory military service and coming out as queer.
Queer East’s features line-up expands out of South Korea, encompassing narrative films, documentary and retrospective screenings, representing an extraordinary breadth of queer filmmaking that spans 60 years and eight countries. Let Me Hear it Barefoot (Japan, 2021) from director Kudo Riho (Orphans’ Blues, 2018) arrives in the UK after an impressive festival run and tells the story of Naomi, a student dropout, who befriends the happy-go-lucky Maki. As they begin to express their growing intimacy through rough playfighting, their actions acquire a hurtful intensity that threatens to overwhelm their relationship. A relationship also comes under strain in Jun Robles Lana’s (Ten Little Mistresses, 2023), About Us But Not About Us (The Philippines, 2022), a tense and claustrophobic mystery in which literature student Lance meets his university professor Eric for dinner. But as disturbing revelations about the past begin to emerge, the encounter evolves into a vicious battle of wills. What Happened to the Wolf? (Myanmar, 2022), is directed by Na Gyi (Mi, 2019), who fled the country after a warrant was issued for his arrest for participating in the civil disobedience movement following the 2021 coup d’état. The film brings together two hospital patients with different outlooks on society, who form a strong bond. Bad Women of China (China, 2022) is a raw and frank documentary that explores the lives and desires of three generations of Chinese women from filmmaker and activist He Xiaopei’s, who takes the audience on a journey from the 1920s through to the 2020s, documenting the experiences and desires of three generations of Chinese women, as they come to terms with political and social change; while Lotus Sports Club (Cambodia / Netherlands, 2022) is an inspiring coming-of-age documentary about the relationship between a young transgender footballer and his coach, and is directed by Vanna Hem and Italian filmmaker Tommaso Colognese, whose production department credits include major Hollywood films Inception, Hugo and Skyfall. Heading back 60 years, The Love Eterne (Hong Kong, 1963) is a sumptuous opera film, in which maiden Chu Ying-Tai disguises herself as a boy in order to attend school. There she meets the dashing Liang Shan-Po, with whom she falls passionately in love. The Director Li Han-Hsiang also directed classics Diau Charn (1958) and The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959), and won the Golden Horse for Best Director for The Love Eterne in 1963. Also screening is Tsai Ming-Liang’s debut feature Rebels of the Neon God (Taiwan, 1992), a masterful exploration of urban alienation and sexual malaise, widely regarded as one of the best Taiwanese films of all time. Rebels of the Neon God captures a transformative moment in the city’s history, as the decaying architecture of the nationalist era gives way to technological modernisation, video game arcades, and shiny new shopping malls. Foregrounding themes of queer desire, the film introduced cinemagoers to Tsai’s signature minimalist style.
Exploring the queer experience in all its myriad forms, Queer East presents a truly diverse selection of thematically linked short films across five groupings.
In Between Seasons – Programmed and presented in partnership with CinemAsia Film Festival, Amsterdam
Spring, summer, autumn and winter: each new season marks a beginning, an act of trans-formation, signalling the everchanging fluidity of nature. In this programme, whether trapped in psychological minds or physical bodies, each protagonist discovers a way to escape from reality, and embark on a personal journey of finding the past or envisioning the future. These films centre on the theme of metamorphosis, piecing together a multifaceted recollection of queer memories and futures.
- Titles: Boy Queen (Dir. Sai Nyi Min Htut, Myanmar, Germany, 2021); Seance of the Past (Dir. Adelaide Sherry, Singapore, 2022); Truthless (Dir. Zhao Badou, China, 2021); Memori Dia (Dir. Asarela Orchidia Dewi, Indonesia, Germany, 2022); Tank Fairy (Dir. Erich Rettstadt, Taiwan, US, 2022);
All About My Mother
A collection of short films that explore the nuances of the mother figure within LGBTQ+ families. With raw emotions and tenderness, these films investigate the complex emotional terrain of these intergenerational relationships. From a mourning mother’s attempt to rediscover her son, to a queer filmmaker turning the camera towards his family, the stories offer a glimpse into the struggles, triumphs and enduring love that shape the intricate bonds between mothers and their queer kids.
- Titles: Will You Look at Me (Dir. Huang Shuli, China, 2022), Skin Can Breathe (Dir. Chheangkea, US, Cambodia, 2022), Fictions (Dir, Alice Charlie Liu, Canada, 2022), Rising Sun (Dir. Cheng Ya-chih, Taiwan, 2018), Fishbowl (Dir. Jacqueline Chan, US, 2021), A Good Mother (Dir. Lee Yu-jin, South Korea, 2022)
A Kind of Queer Utopia – Programmed and presented in partnership with Sine Screen
A collection of short documentaries celebrating the power of queer performances in different forms, through which atypical identities are expressed and embraced. These films explore the queer party scene in Chengdu, offer a portrait of 25-year-old drag artist Leo, tell the story of two gender non-conforming singers from the indigenous Paiwan community, and follow the ups and downs of Nanjing’s first-ever LGBTQ+ choir. In this programme, the lenses of the filmmakers break away from dominant social gazes, exploring live performances as sites of liberation and collective empowerment, a queer utopia found in one another.
- Titles: Strangers in Paradise (Dir. Huang Yihong, China, 2022), Adju (Dir. Elvis A-Liang Lu, Taiwan, 2021), Leo & Nymphia (Dir. Pan Hsin-An, Taiwan, 2021), The Choir of our Kind (Dir. Xu Zai, Wang Sisi, China, 2021)
Remember those first times in your life? This heart-warming collection of coming-of-age dramas captures those soon-to-be-lost moments in queer youth, from the excitement of first encounters and first kisses, to the pain of first breakups and the courage of first coming-outs. Set amid East and Southeast Asian cultures, these stories offer a refreshing perspective on the complexities and nuances of individual queer lives, while highlighting our shared experiences across borders, inviting us all to live young once again.
- Titles: The Voice (Dir. Maral Ayurzana, Mongolia, 2022), Swimming in the Dark (Dir. Chen Pin-Ru, Taiwan, 2022), I get so sad sometimes (Dir. Trishtan Perez, Philippines, 2021), Rooted (Dir. Wu Yi-Wei, Taiwan, 2022), We Were Never Really Strangers (Dir. Patrick Pangan, Philippines, 2022)
Queer Korea: A Mixtape – Programmed by Dongyun Lee.
A collection of modern queer Korean shorts that blend genres from horror to action to comedy. In early South Korean cinema, LGBTQ+ characters were often victimised and portrayed as being stuck in violent and self-destructive patterns. However, in this programme, the films draw on familiar themes but offer alternative twists. The characters are empowered to control their destinies by embracing their queer identities. Shedding light on the versatility of queer storytelling through unconventional cinematic styles, the films in this collection are cruel, gentle, and downright grotesque, all in one wicked mixtape.
- Titles: Ice (Dir. Lee Seongpwook, South Korea, 2019), Cicada (Dir. Yoon Dae-woen, South Korea, 2021), Butch Up! (Dir. Lee Yu-jin, South Korea, 2022), Don’t worry (Dir. Kim Tae-yong, South Korea, 2022), How Do I Kill That B? – (Seo Ji-hwan, South Korea, 2022)
For the first time Queer East presents two live performances at The Place by leading Asian creators and performers: Robin Numanong’s Cyborg DNA and Choy Ka Fai’s Yishun is Burning.
Shamanism meets voguing in choreographer Choy Ka Fai’s scintillating adaptation of Singaporean ritual dance. In this transcendental multimedia solo (with guests, live and on film) the extraordinary Norwegian-Thai dancer Sun Phitthaya Phaefuang, aka Aurora Sun, shifts between states of ecstasy, trance and drag. Yishun Is Burning is part of the CosmicWander Series, an on-going project exploring shamanic dance culture in Asia. Inspired by the Singaporean phenomenon of reverencing deities in their struggle against evil, this UK premiere arrives thirty-plus years after the iconic documentary film Paris Is Burning. Crossing and blurring boundaries of gender, race and religion, it is both a liberating and celebratory attempt to manifest a supernatural dance experience and a bold signpost in the search for spirituality through movement. Featuring the galvanising music of the Singaporean-Malay band NADA (Rizman Putra and Safuan Johari) and Chinese drummer Cheryl Ong.
Cyborg DNA is a hypnotic and hypersensitive futuristic performance installation blending digital art, synthesised music and contemporary dance. A boundary-breaking collaboration between dance artist and creative producer Robin Nimanong, digital artist Luxnautilus and a small but choice cast (including musician Clara Cozzolino), this new cross-disciplinary work was inspired in part by Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto. Her influential 1985 essay explores how language evolves, and envisions a future that embraces the complexity of the body and technology. Nimanong and company likewise envision a time of transhumanism and transformation, when the focus on race, gender and ethnicity shifts into new parameters that promote fresh planes of understanding. Nominated for the DNA NEXT! Incentive Award 2022, Cyborg DNA is an open invitation to come see, taste and succumb to a place of infinite possibility.
ARTISTS’ MOVING IMAGE PROGRAMMES
Queer East’s Artists’ Moving Image Programmes present two boundary-pushing presentations featuring cutting-edge experimental works which confront, challenge and subvert.
Alien Body, Human Dreams (Programmed by April Lin) is a series of cinematic investigations that centre the body as a potent site of hybridity, rejecting false divisions of man/woman, human/animal/alien, and self/other to construct their own embodied and multifaceted ways of being. Artists in this programme purposefully employ queering as a technique to misread, re-appropriate, and puncture the systems of power projected onto the body. In these works by queer Southeast and East Asian filmmakers, we meet a speculative reality where human body parts are sold in food trucks and witness a dance-fight between a lion dancer and a contemporary dancer. Bodyhacking, ritualising, and ceremonialising is used to knead cosmologies, folding knowledge in upon themselves.
- Titles: to boyhood, i never knew him (Dir. Trâm Anh Nguyễn, Vietnam & Canada, 2022), Longing for the Sun to Set Upwards (Dir. Jao San Pedro, Philippines, 2022), Native beast (Dir. Aileen Ye, Netherlands, 2022), Disease of Manifestation (Dir. Tzu An Wu, Taiwan, 2011), Yummy Body Truck (Dir. Noam Youngrak Son, Netherlands, 2021), BXBY (Dir. Soojin Chang, UK, 2022), Garden Amidst the Flame (Natasha Tontey, Indonesia, 2022)
Wayward Fruits (Programmed by Bart Seng Wen Long) presents a series of short films and artist moving images that work intimately and unapologetically with and through stereotypical elements of racialised East and South East Asian media, leading to lubricious slippages and unexpected relationships between the filmmakers and the motifs they consort with. It’s like chancing upon a seedy late-night cinema hall only to find the films they show to be uncanny subversions of the usual classics, where even the cliché perverse finds itself perverted further more.
- Titles: Dikit (Dir. Gabriela Serrano, 2021), out in the world (Dir. Bart Seng Wen Long, 2022), Boy-Taste (Dir. Michio Okabe, 1973), I shudder with pleasure that at last the time has come (Dir. Mari Terashima, 2022), Sexy Sushi (Dir. Calleen Koh, 2021), Super Taboo (Dir. Su Hui Yu, 2017)
Queer East Festival 2023 takes place 18 – 30 April across venues in London
Venues: BFI Southbank, Barbican Centre, Prince Charles Cinema, Genesis Cinema, Garden Cinema, Bertha DocHouse, Rich Mix and The Place.