Mar 1, 2013

ASEAN - Asean and gay

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Life looks at LGBT cinema from our nearest and dearest neighbours

Everywhere you go these days, you'll see or hear the word "Asean" in every possible media outlet _ from newspapers, billboards to subway screens (almost ad nauseam). Sometimes it seems that the word is being overused and in some cases doesn't make sense. The best example, I would say, is the slogan for a national beauty pageant: "Beauty with virtue, beauty through the eyes of Asean" (we get the point, but hello, what is that?)

But it is understandable if we want to be well prepared for the bandwagon of regional unity. To follow the Asean trend, our Queer Eye column this month will look at prominent LGBT-themed films in Southeast Asia _ some of them you may not have heard about before.

The cultural, racial and religious differences between each Asean country have been raised, and such differences may be even more complex when it concerns the issues of gays and homosexuals. Through these films, you may be able to learn something more about the lives of LGBT communities through cinematic expression.


We are never short of LGBT films from the Philippines. And some of the films have made it to movie festivals and competitions worldwide. Cooking up quite a buzz last year was a new film, Bwakaw, a heart-warming story of a septugenarian gay man and his loyal dog.

Titled after the dog in the film, Bwakaw is a drama-comedy that follows a life the 70-year-old Rene, a grumpy old man who only recently realised his true sexual identity (played by respected Filipino actor Eddie Garcia, who recently won the best actor prize at the Asia-Pacific Film Awards). Wrecked by the feeling that everything in life is coming to an end, Rene looks forward to death with only his dog by his side.

Last year, the Philippines submitted Bwakaw as its representative for the recent Oscars, but it didn't make the cut.


Solos is Singapore's most artistically daring film. Inspired by a true story, it centres around the forbidden love between a man (Lim Yu-Beng) and a boy (Loo Zihan). The film has no dialogue, intentionally, to allow audiences to form their own interpretations. Co-directed by Kan Lume and Zihan, the film was shot entirely in Singapore and is referred to as the first gay feature-length film and undoubtedly the most sexually explicit gay movie to be made in the island nation. The actors are leading talents in Singapore's theatre scene.

Solos debuted during the 12th Busan International Film Festival in South Korea and travelled to LGBT film festivals around the world.


This is the first film in Indonesia to feature two men kissing. Directed by famed director Nina Anita, Arisan!, released in 2003, was an unlikely box office hit in Indonesia that satires lives of the rich in Jakarta and tackles the sensitive issue of homosexuality.

The film revolves around a gay character, Sakti, and female characters Meimei and Nino, and their "arisan" _ a meet-up among female friends for gossip and lucky draws where they all chip in money.

Arisan! was honoured by Festival Film Indonesia with all six major awards, including best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor and best supporting actress.

In 2011, Arisan! 2 was introduced to Indonesian audiences.

Another must-see from Indonesia is the 2011 film Lovely Man _ a story of 19-year-old devout Muslim girl, Cahaya, and her journey to Jakarta to look for her long-lost father. Her dream dad, she found out, has become a transvestite sex worker on the streets of Jakarta's red-light district. The reunion leads them both to their biggest revelations in their lives. Directed by Teddy Soeriaatmadja, the film shows how LGBT issues assert themselves in a country often associated with a strict religious world view.


Dubbed by AFP as "Vietnam's first gay film", Lost In Paradise is the work of Vietnamese director Vu Ngoc Dang.

The film includes two separate stories, both set in Saigon. The first is about a love triangle between three men in which the issue of male prostitution is included.

Running parallel, the other story is a about a relationship between a mentally handicapped man and a female prostitute. The film was first released in 2011 and shown at various international film festivals.

It was released in Bangkok last year to an enthusiastic response.

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