Queer East returns for its fourth annual outing, starting April 18th.
Returning bigger and better than ever, not only is Queer East offering an even bigger variety of films from an even bigger selection of countries, but this year sees new multimedia events.
As they’ve shown more than once – and most notably in the release of the excellent Memories of my Body – dance has always played a huge role in LGBTQ artistry, and it’s great to see Queer East showcase two separate performances: 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.
On top of that will be the haunting VR experience 5.25m2 in which viewers are invited to experience the solitary confinement cell that Stateless Things director Kim Kyung-mook was sentenced to after coming out, and objecting to mandatory military service.
But we’re mostly here for films, so here are 10 from this year you have to check out.
1. I Love You, Beksman (April 1, BFI)
As always I have to talk about the opening and closing films of the festival. This Filipino comedy flips the tables on the classic coming-out story, and tells of a young make-up artist and fashion designer whose friends have assumed he is gay his whole life and who needs to come out as straight in order to ask out a beauty pageant queen.
2. Home Ground (30 April, Barbican Centre)
Closing things off is something wholly different. Home Ground is a poignant Korean documentary about Lesbos, Korea’s first lesbian bar and looks at its history over the past quarter century. Director Kwon Aram looks at the societal changes that the bar has experienced over this time, offering rare insight into Seoul’s often-hidden lesbian history.
3. A Man and a Gisaeng (26 April, Prince Charles Cinema)
A rediscovered gem, and part of the festival’s Focus Korea strand, A Man and a Gisaeng tells of a man, recently fired from his job for dressing too much like a woman, who decides to dress fully in drag and a work as a gisaeng – a sort of lower class woman trained as a courtesan.
4. Memento Mori (28 April, Genesis Cinema)
Moving into horror territory, the Focus Korea strand continues with this 1999 film about a schoolgirl who learns of two of her friends who are entangled in an affair. When one of the girls turns up dead the tranquil school is transformed into a morbid place of terror. This horror classic is a spiritual sequel to the K-horror favourite Whispering Corridors.
5. King and the Clown (26 April, BFI)
Based on the play Yi, the King and the Clown is a historical drama about two street performers during the reign of King Yeonsan who are arrested for satirising the crown. Things get complicated when the king finds himself infatuated with one of the performers. The film was a surprise hit, considering the homosexual themes relating to historical figures, and even won the Grand Bell for Best Film.
6. Stateless Things (22 April, Garden Cinema)
Queer East is an innately political festival – the depiction, treatment and reception to queer topics around Asia is its primary focus, after all. But sometimes things get a touch more political, such as in this film about two men on the fringes of Korean society – a North Korean defector, and a sugar baby – who meet on the day they plan to end their own lives, but who ultimately find their lives changed by the other.
7. About Us But Not About Us (29 April, Rich Mix)
A tense thriller from the Philippines, which sees a literature professor meet his student (and rumoured lover) at a restaurant. Conversation turns dark when the subject of the suicide of a celebrated author and the teacher’s former lover spring up. The film, low-key by design, draws its tension from dialogue and the chemistry between its two stars.
8. What Happened to the Wolf? (24 April, BFI)
I love seeing films from more obscure and unrepresented countries, and it’s a thrill to see Burma make an appearance this year, with their low-key, moving drama about two women who find solace in each other. On top of that, the film has historical relevance as it was released just before the 2021 Myanmar coup d’état, and seized as radical anti-coup propaganda – forcing its director Na Gyi to even go into hiding. An important film if there ever was one, and definitely worth checking out.
9. Lotus Sports Club (23 April, Bertha DocHouse)
A documentary shot over 5 years, this Cambodian film is about Leak, a teen trans man who plays football in the under 21s women’s team. The film’s second star is Pa Vann, the elderly coach and father figure to the players, who established the club to support a wide diversity of players in a country where it isn’t always safe to be yourself.
10. Rebels of the Neon God (24 April, Prince Charles Cinema)
This 1992 classic is often seen as one of the best Taiwanese films of all time, and tells several parallel stories of youths in Taipei who try to get through life as best they can. Drenched in Tsai’s minimalist style, Rebels captures a transformative moment in the city’s history, as the decaying architecture of the nationalist era gives way to technological modernisations.
Those aren’t even close to all the films that are there. I didn’t have time to mention the 1963 Hong Kong musical drama The Love Eterne, or the sweet Japanese drama Let Me Hear It Barefoot. Go to the website and see what else is on.