The Queer East Film Festival returns on the 18th of May for its third edition.
It’s great to see something as he festival is growing even more from last year, and will feature 17 films from all over Asia, including lesser-represented countries Thailand (which features quite heavily this time around as part of the festival’s Focus Thailand strand), Cambodia and the Philippines, and date as far back as forty years ago. This dive back through history is important at will allow the festival to showcase the issues and topics that have been central to each decade’s queer discussions.
Opening night brings us back in time 20 years with Thai sports drama Beautiful Boxer (18:15, 18th May, Genesis Cinema), which stars Asanee Suwan as real-life transgender boxer Nong Toom. To pay for her gender reassignment operation, she enters the hyper masculine world of Muay Thai, and trains to become a champion. With action sequences as exciting to watch as the dramatic moments are touching, Beautiful Boxer is a choice pick for the festival, and sets the stage nicely for another trans Thai sports film The Iron Ladies (14:00, 22nd May, Stanley Arts). Despite its far goofier tone and straightforward narrative, The Iron Ladies still has a lot to say about the state of LGBT representation in Asian sports and shouldn’t be missed if you get a chance.
The five remaining Thai films all look equally good: romantic comedy Yes or No (18:30, 20th May, Genesis Cinema) is the first lesbian-themed film to achieve mainstream success in country, while The Blue Hour (18:10, 23rd May, Barbican Centre) and Malila: The Farewell Flower (15:00, 28th May, BFI Southbank) are both poetic and meditative studies of loneliness and acceptance. Lastly are two movies dealing very differently with teenage romance. Mundane History (21:00, 28th May, genesis Cinema) tells the story of a nurse who falls for the patient he’s been taking care of, while Love of Siam (13:30, 29th May, Rich Mix) details the romance that blossoms between two boys and how they handle it after having been apart for so many years.
If the festival’s historical side is something you’d want to engage in, Taiwan’s Girls’ School (18:10, 24th May, BFI Southbank) looks at homosexuality in an all-girls high school and was shot in 1982, a time when attitudes about same-sex relationships were – as one might expect – hugely different. The same is true of East Palace, West Palace (20:30, 27th May, BFI Southbank) from 1996, a drama about a gay man held for questioning by police in Beijing. However, if you’re looking for something that compares both the past and present in one swoop, be sure to check out the Richard Fung Double Bill (13:30, 21st May, Bertha Dochouse), featuring documentaries Orientations and Re:Orientations which explores the lives of a group of queer Asians living in Toronto thirty years apart.
Coalesce (18:15, 19th May, Barbican Centre) and Metamorphosis (18:00, 29th May, BFI Southbank) hail from Cambodia and the Philippines respectively and offer another point of view, from countries that might not get their voices out so loudly or as often. Coalesce is the story of three young men whose lives intersect as they navigate city life in an attempt to pay debts and make money, while Metamorphosis looks at gender identity through the eyes of a teenager born with both male and female genitalia. Metamorphosis is also the festival’s closing night movie, so it looks to end on a high that is as important as it will be entertaining.
There are plenty of other films I’ve barely touched upon, including two from Korea: Take Me Home (18:00, 21st May, Catford Mews) and A Distant Place (18:25, 26th May, Genesis Cinema); one from Japan: What She Likes (18:25, 28th May, Genesis Cinema); and Singapore which offers one of the stranger films this year: 24 (18:20, 25th May, Curzon Soho), described by director Royston Tan as a sound film that shows you the past, present and future of an audio engineer. As well as all this, there’s a VR experience at the Horse Hospital, as well as plenty of short films and artist features.
Find the programme here on the official Queer East Film Festival site, where all tickets can be purchased.