film review: Yang ± Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema

no homo?

Yang ± Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema
(Naamsaang-neuiseung)
Directed by Stanley Kwan
United Kingdom | Hong Kong, 1996

Stanley Kwan made this engrossing, first-person documentary about Chinese cinema on a commission from the British Film Institute. The result is a re-discovery of important if personally selected films from the past, including interviews with directors like Tsui Hark, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Ang Lee, John Woo and Tsai Ming-Liang, actor and pop star Leslie Cheung, and filmmaker and critic Peggy Chiao.

Kwan takes as his starting point the fluid sexual and gender dynamics that are characteristic of Chinese performing arts in general and asks particular directors how it relates to their film-work. The older directors are articulate but somewhat unaware that anything homoerotic was going on in their movies or that the obsession with male bonding represented something significant. The younger directors less so, and of course the gay directors like Tsai and the self-consciously modern directors like Lee have a lot to say about the issue.

Kwan keeps taking it back to how all this reflects on the traditional representation of family life, particularly the primacy of “filial piety” in Chinese culture of the past. Even if we didn’t know what sort of movies Kwan has made, like Lan Yu (2001) and Actress (aka Center Stage and Yuen Ling-yuk, 1991), it would be easy to figure out what’s most important to him. So he gives his mother the final word.

There are touching moments like that throughout the film but perhaps none more affecting for me than the interview with Cheung, who jumped out of a building to his death in 2003, before ever coming out.

You can rent Yang ± Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema on the BFI website; or watch it below in low quality on YouTube.

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Yang ± Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema
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