12 November 2010

Book Review: Celluloid Comrades

Song Hwee Lim is a Film Studies lecturer in the United Kingdom. The research of this book was the basis of his doctoral dissertation.

I found this book to be refreshing in many respects. It more or less disposed of many of the postmodernist arguments about representation and still addressed issues of colonialism, imperialism, etc., without doing what many postmodernist theorists do, indirectly, exoticize the East by villainizing the West. Lim's piece more or less just moves the West out of the frame of the shot and looks primarily at Chinese gay cinema. He doesn't deny the effects of globalization or the role of "film festival" capital at channeling how Chinese gay cinema comes to be created, but does not fall into the trap of many Western theorists set for themselves by indirectly asserting Western supremacy in the production of Chinese cinema.

Now, enough with that, the book got me to thinking about the first time I saw the Wedding Banquet, Farewell my Concubine, Happy Together and East Palace, West Palace. These are the primary films that Lim deals with. It has been ten or fifteen years since I've seen any of them. When I subsequently read film criticism about them in English journals, I almost felt guilty for the affect the films produced in me. I identified with the main Asian character in the Wedding Banquet and in Happy Together, I felt like a struggle between my inner-Fai and inner-Po-wing was raging on and on occasionally spilling out into a love life where sometimes I was Fai and sometimes Po-wing and wondering when my own Chang would come. (I know, heavy of the father issues, di ba?)

With East Palace, West Palace, it reminded me of the complexity surrounding many young gay ManileƱos who have adopted this Western approach to sexuality and gender where kabaklaan is somehow an inchoate identity or a retarded form of homosexuality or a backward or primitive relic of a savage past. (This has seeped into theory elsewhere, but I'm not going there, for now.) I was captured by the movie when it first came out. It was tragic, all around. Although I was more focused on the seduction of the police officer, it really wasn't until later, did I see how I was being seduced by the entire constellation of images and how much in identification I was with Ah Lan's character. Ultimately, it was a struggle of Ah Lan and Xiaoshi, in me, that was engaging in a careful dance. The question and issue of my own masochism.

This is a must read for any survey of gay Film Studies.

The version I read was a 247 page paperback published by University of Hawai'i Press (February, 2007), ISBN-13: 978-0824830779. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at amazon.com.

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