Ride or Die: joyfully chaotic… but to what end?

This film is doing a lot. Every one of the one hundred and forty two minutes (that’s nearly two and a half hours) is highly charged ー with drama, with plot, with sweeping vistas, and quite often with all three. It is an assault on your emotional sensibility from the very first scene, which culminates in a graphically violent and sexual murder. To take a step back and to look at what exactly this art is doing (if anything) is to be left with a myriad of questions. Crucially, I found myself wondering: is any of this really worth it? […]

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The Panti Sisters: even camper than it sounds

A gay son returns to his homophobic family home in full drag, complete with a train so large it’s on-screen long enough for a slow fade into the film’s title: The Panti Sisters. Drag queen Gabbi ー who, with a last name like that, need not change it in drag ー breaks the fourth wall to narrate to us the story of how she made it here, sequins and all. She also has a reveal, because of course she does: sliding off her robe, she wears a purple rhinestoned mini-dress, a sensible choice for a family dinner.
If you thought this was camp, just wait for the rest of the movie. […]

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Dear Ex: wildly unhinged, but still magnificent

Literally translating the Chinese title to “Who Started Loving Him First?” gives us a lot more insight into what this film is actually about; perhaps, rather, it could have been “Who Did He Start Loving First?” ー the “he” referring to recently deceased Song Zheng-yuan. We spend the film with the people who surrounded Zheng-yuan’s life: his teenage son Song Chen-hsi; his ex-wife Liu San-Lien; and the male lover Chieh he left them both for in his final few weeks and months of life. When a battle for Zheng-yuan’s life insurance money forces these three characters into each other’s company, chaos ーpredictablyー arises. […]

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Wish You: a flawed but precious rom-com

Soft acoustic pop and passing cars lead into lingering glances across a sleeping city. Adoring fan Sang-i gazes longingly at street singer Kang In-su as he strums his way through a soppy ballad, the almost-title track “Wish For You”. Initial seeds of romance are planted within the first 2 minutes; yet, we are forced to wait with baited breath until the last 2 minutes to see whether the buds will blossom. This, of course, begs the question: how much do we really gain along the way? […]

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Sequence Analysis: The Handmaiden, destroy the library

“The daughter of a legendary thief, who sewed winter coats out of stolen purses. Herself a thief, pickpocket, swindler. The saviour who came to tear my life apart. My Tamako, my Sook-Hee.” So narrates Lady Hideko over perhaps the most celebrated scene of Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden (2016). In the emotional and symbolic climax of this two-and-a-half hour Korean epic, Sook-Hee and Hideko, class enemies turned lovers, destroy a library together, shouting a symbolic fuck you to the patriarchy in the process. In order to understand the full impact of this action for characters and spectators alike, we must first briefly circle back and work out how we got here. […]

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The Handmaiden: Sapphic mystery goes rogue

Crossing, double-crossing, triple-crossing. Failed heists, successful heists, twists. Lesbian sex scenes that reclaim symbols of patriarchy; lead characters defying expectations of womanhood and class in the repressive Japanese-occupied Korea; ripples and reprecussions of political and cultural history. This film has it all. And so much more. Then, just when you think you know what’s going on, your whole reality is turned on its head. Twice. […]

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Your Name Engraved Herein: a love story without any love

Marketed as part- queer coming-of-age story part- bittersweet romance, Taiwan’s most popular film of 2020 landed on global Netflix in December. Complete with a seemingly deep and enigmatic title, Your Name Engraved Herein (Patrick Kuang-Hui Liu, 2020) sells itself as arthouse queer cinema out in the mainstream; it is, after all, the highest-grossing LGBT film in Taiwanese cinematic history. And yet, having reached the end of an intense and brooding 1 hour and 54 minutes, I couldn’t help but ask… am I missing something? […]

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Yes or No: pure Thai lesbian cuteness

This film could be mistaken for a simple and harmless lesbian teen rom-com. In the West and in 2020, we are lucky to have quite a few of those. But when it premiered 10 years ago in a then quite conservative Thailand, it was the country’s first lesbian film with a butch protagonist. Knowing this, the narrative’s insistence on focusing on Kim’s tomboyishness as a barrier to her friendships and relationships makes a lot more sense. We’ll go into that more later…

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I Am

Picture this: on a dreary Sunday afternoon in 2010, you decide to visit your local independent cinema. There, you discover it’s the last day of an artsy film festival ー something about identity in Asia, or perhaps LGBTQ rights around the globe. You notice that a collection of short films is about to be shown, and you buy a surprisingly cheap ticket. There are six other people in the queue, and one of them works there, but everyone seems excited. You sit down in the third row ーa prime spot, but not so far forward as to seem over-keen. The lights go down, and the titles roll. This is how it feels to watch this film. […]

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