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Celluloid Comrades

Celluloid Comrades: Representations of Male Homosexuality in Contemporary Chinese Cinemas

Song Hwee Lim
Copyright Date: 2006
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  • Book Info
    Celluloid Comrades
    Book Description:

    Celluloid Comrades offers a cogent analytical introduction to the representation of male homosexuality in Chinese cinemas within the last decade. It posits that representations of male homosexuality in Chinese film have been polyphonic and multifarious, posing a challenge to monolithic and essentialized constructions of both ‘Chineseness’ and ‘homosexuality.’ Given the artistic achievement and popularity of the films discussed here, the position of ‘celluloid comrades’ can no longer be ignored within both transnational Chinese and global queer cinemas. The book also challenges readers to reconceptualize these works in relation to global issues such as homosexuality and gay and lesbian politics, and their interaction with local conditions, agents, and audiences. Tracing the engendering conditions within the film industries of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, Song Hwee Lim argues that the emergence of Chinese cinemas in the international scene since the 1980s created a public sphere in which representations of marginal sexualities could flourish in its interstices. Examining the politics of representation in the age of multiculturalism through debates about the films, Lim calls for a rethinking of the limits and hegemony of gay liberationist discourse prevalent in current scholarship and film criticism. He provides in-depth analyses of key films and auteurs, reading them within contexts as varied as premodern, transgender practice in Chinese theater to postmodern, diasporic forms of sexualities. Informed by cultural and postcolonial studies and critical theory, this acutely observed and theoretically sophisticated work will be of interest to a wide range of scholars and students as well as general readers looking for a deeper understanding of contemporary Chinese cultural politics, cinematic representations, and queer culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6178-0
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    S. H. L.
  4. Note on Chinese Romanization, Translation, and Periodization
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In the last few decades, questions of gender and sexuality have become an increasingly important area of inquiry in many academic disciplines. Within the field of Chinese literature and culture, the focus of this inquiry has been on the female gender. More recently, scholars have begun to turn their attention to the male gender.¹ The study of same-sex sexuality, whether for the male or the female gender, can also be described as an emerging field.² At the same time, we have witnessed Chinese cinemas fast rising as one of the most vibrant areas of research within modern and contemporary Chinese...

  6. 1 Screening Homosexuality
    (pp. 19-40)

    From the interracial couple inThe Wedding Banquetand the diasporic sojourners inHappy Togetherto the cross-dressing opera actor inFarewell My Concubineand the incestuous father and son inThe River,the proliferating representation of male homosexuality in contemporary Chinese cinemas was a striking phenomenon at the end of the twentieth century that would not have gone unnoticed by any cinephile. There is a need to account for this phenomenon as representations of a marginal sexuality become increasingly prominent in the cultural and sociopolitical realms in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Moreover, as Chinese cinemas begin to capture...

  7. 2 The Burden of Representation: Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet
    (pp. 41-68)

    Ang Lee’sThe Wedding Banquetis generally regarded as the first gay film in contemporary Chinese cinemas. It premiered in February 1993 at the Berlin Film Festival, where it clinched the Golden Bear award (several months before Chen Kaige’sFarewell My Concubinewon the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May 1993).¹ It was also the most profitable film in 1993, when it achieved phenomenal box-office records both in Taiwan and abroad.² As a high-profile film and the first to openly problematize the relationship between homosexuality and the Chinese family, the film is also a victim of its own success as...

  8. 3 The Uses of Femininity: Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine and Zhang Yuan’s East Palace, West Palace
    (pp. 69-98)

    “What is the place of femininity within male homosexuality?” Kaja Silverman notes that “it seems politically impossible to ask [such a question] at this moment in the history of representation” because “the question itself appears to solicit a cultural stereotype which many homosexual men have struggled to put behind them” (1992, 339). In a book on the representation of male homosexuality in Chinese cinemas in which the films under discussion are drawn from the decade of Silverman’s writing, femininity poses a problem both politically and discursively, albeit for different reasons. Certainly Silverman’s anxiety is also palpable in the context of...

  9. 4 Travelling Sexualities: Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together
    (pp. 99-125)

    Wong Kar-wai is undoubtedly the most hip director in contemporary Chinese cinemas and enjoys a cult following worldwide.¹ His debut film,As Tears Go By(Wangjiao Kamen,also known asRexue nan’er,1988), brought him critical attention in Hong Kong, but it was his subsequent films such asDays of Being Wild(A Fei zhengzhuan,1990),Ashes of Time(Dongxie Xidu1994),Chungking Express(Chongqing senlin,1994), andFallen Angels(Duoluo tianshi,1995) that propelled him to international status.In the Mood for Love(Huayang nianhua,2000) won Tony Leung Chiuwai the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival....

  10. 5 Confessing Desire: The Poetics of Tsai Ming-liang’s Queer Cinema
    (pp. 126-152)

    As a filmmaker, Malaysian-born Tsai Ming-liang is best known for his representations of gender and sexuality, especially male homoeroticism and homosexuality, building an oeuvre that can arguably be called the first queer cinema in the Chinese-speaking world. However, he is notorious for resisting the label of “gay director.” Unlike Stanley Kwan, who has come out openly as gay (see chapter 6), Tsai explicitly expresses his dislike at having his films labelled as “gay films” and feels that homosexuality has been turned into a kind of fashion and sensationalized in film circles (Chiao 1997b, 25). Paradoxically, perhaps more than that of...

  11. 6 Fragments of Darkness: Stanley Kwan as Gay Director
    (pp. 153-179)

    Stanley Kwan is the first prominent filmmaker in the Chinese-speaking world to have come out openly as gay. Though he was on record stating that “I became gay very early in life” in an English-language film journal as early as 1993 (Kwan 1993, 13), it was with his performance in his 1996 documentary,Yang±Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema (Nansheng nüxiang),that his sexuality became newsworthy, particularly for audiences in Hong Kong and Taiwan. I call it a performance not only in the sense that the act of coming out is performative as well as a performance; more to...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 180-186)

    In examining the representation of male homosexuality in contemporary Chinese cinemas, I have investigated the enabling conditions of these representations in the global cultural economy at the turn of the twenty-first century, the burden and politics of representation in relation to the reception of the films, the various tropes of representation, and the works of some key directors. I have emphasized from the beginning of this book that it is not about constructing a Chinese expression of homosexuality or a homosexual expression of Chineseness. Similarly, in his study on gender and sexuality in Spanish and Spanish American literature, Paul Julian...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 187-210)
  14. Filmography
    (pp. 211-216)
  15. Glossary of Chinese Characters
    (pp. 217-220)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 221-240)
  17. Index
    (pp. 241-248)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-250)