With the rise of streaming services giving greater access to viewers, and mainstream recognition of movies like Shoplifters and Parasite, people are paying more attention to movies from East Asia.
For people looking for LGBTQ+ content from East Asia, there is an entire genre of movies called BL (Boy Love) to take a look at. The term originated in Japan from a genre called Yaoi, a Japanese term referring to manga depicting homoerotic romances between men (usually written by women for women).
The term has since evolved to refer to any fictional media that depicts romantic relationships between men. I could easily write an article with just selections from this genre (Thailand and Taiwan released over 80 BL series in 2020 alone). It is an interesting topic considering the status of LGBTQ+ rights in some of the countries producing them, but for now, here are just few suggestions of gay movies from East Asia to check out.
ALL IN MY FAMILY (2019)
This short documentary follows a traditional family where the son is a gay Chinese man who has chosen to have children via surrogates. He lives out and happy in America but has to go back in the closet when he returns to China as the majority of his family are unaware that he is gay.
It deals with how his parents feel about his sexuality and how he is going to explain bringing back two children without a wife to his wider family. I found it interesting to look at the culture of China as it relates to family and dealing with sexuality.
DEAR EX (2018)
This is the story of a teenager, Song Cheng-xi, who becomes trapped in the middle of a bitter feud between his overbearing mother and a free-spirited man called Jay – who his recently deceased father left his mother for and is his insurance beneficiary.
At the beginning of the movie, you question the motives of his father (who left his family nothing) and his mother (who seems to want to control her son’s life) but flashbacks give you a greater understanding of the characters. Romantic and emotional, it is probably my favourite movie of the ones selected here.
THE IRON LADIES (2000)
This irreverent comedy is based on the real-life story of a volleyball team consisting mainly of gay and transgender players who competed in the national championships in Thailand.
The two main characters Mon and Jung like to dress in women’s clothes and wear make-up and, because of this, have been overlooked by volleyball coaches. However, a local team changes coach and subsequently holds try-outs. Mon and Jung qualify but most of the team quit as a result. Mon and Jung decide to find replacements from friends they used to play with in college; Wit- who is not out to his family and is engaged to a girl, Pia- a transgender dancer and Nong- an army recruit.
The story follows their progress in the tournament going up against officials who want to ban them. It’s an over-the-top comedy that made me laugh out loud. I love that the characters mostly don’t care what people thing of them, but there is homophobic language that might upset some viewers.
YOUR NAME ENGRAVED HEREIN (2020)
As martial law ends in 1980’s Taiwan, a new student, Birdy, arrives at an all-boys Catholic high school, where he and another student, A-han, soon become fast friends. Despite both seemingly being interested in each other, they remain hesitant to act on their feelings (Birdy is more hesitant than A-han).
The introduction of female students adds a wrinkle to their relationship. Birdy catches the eye of one of the new girls, who offers the hope of socially-acceptable heterosexual romance, but A-han still longs for Birdy. Edward Chen (A-han) really evokes a feeling of longing and you get swept up in his feelings for A-han.
There is also a nice nod to noted Taiwanese gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei, as a character appears in the film holding a sign reading, “Homosexuality is not a disease!” with the sign, the outfit the character wears and the location of the protest reflecting Chi’s real-life protests.
WISH YOU (2021)
One of South Korea’s first forays into the BL genre. Lee, a keyboardist working in a record company, runs into singer song-writer, Kang, playing on the street and instantly falls for him.
Circumstances lead them to run into each other repeatedly but Lee can’t build up the nerve to really talk to Kang or reveal his feelings. It doesn’t help that Kang wants to remain mysterious about his background. Both Lee Sang and Kang In Soo are Idols in Korea (meaning they are involved in K-Pop) so playing musicians comes naturally to them. For me, Lee stands out as he really captures his character’s attraction and hesitancy.
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