14 December 2013

Book Review: Staging Hong Kong

Rozanna Lilley is an Australian anthropologist who previously lectured on anthropology and was the editor of the Australian Journal of Anthropology for several years. She has returned to school and is a Ph.D candidate in Early Childhood. She spent 10 years of her life (including her first Ph.D) studying ethnicity and gender in Hong Kong. Staging Hong Kong: Gender and Performance in Transition is a product of that period.

Written at the time of the handover, she does an excellent job of critiquing just about every position and doesn't align herself with any of the dominant positions in the late transition period: colonial apologists, neoliberal apologists, Maoist apologist, etc.,. The object of her study was Zuni Icosahedron, which continues to exist, as an avant-garde (I'd say Deleuzean) performance art company. Zuni, very self-consciously, has always attempted to be at the margins and therefore has attempted to not align itself with any particular ideology.

While there is much that can be chalked up to Chinese studies, this book is equally a LGBT studies book. While it is about "gender" the focus is mostly on masculinity and sexuality as opposed to any feminist interrogation. I fondly remember back to the transition period and the boys who were from Hong Kong, more on that can be found in my review of Amphetamine.

Quite interesting was the extremely extended review of Hong Kong politics and arts/culture politics and how Chinese related to Maoist-Leninist-Marxist thought in 1997. I recall the pain and devastation of Tienanmen Massacre I myself felt and most diasporic Chinese that I knew. The circuitous wandering on sexuality and masculinity was also fascinating but not quite as interesting. This is, in part, because I easily get bored with discussions of performance art if I myself didn't see it. She did a great job in trying to put the reader in the audience for Edward Lam's Scenes from a Man's Changing Room.

But what was most interesting, if I may say so, was her analysis and discussion of how a group that ascribes to the rhizomatic approach to theory, practice and creativity can easily slip into arborescent, hierarchical forms of authority (and how easy it is to rationalize and psychologize criticism). I would be interested to read a follow up of the group and how it functions now 15 years later. I did find out that Mathias Woo and Danny Yung are still in charge -- which sounds like ossification to me, but hey, I'm not Chinese.

In my creative capacities, I was very much impacted by the manipulation of "traditional" Chinese narratives and propagated "traditional" Chinese narratives to return the ideological forces back onto the manipulators or propagators. I feel that real creative work opens a dialogue with what exists and then interrogates it about existence.

If you aren't into analysis of performance art, it can get a bit dry at times. But its worth the suffering (or skimming) to get to the interesting stuff.

The version I read was in English at 256 pages in paper published by the University of Hawai'i Press (October 1998) with an ISBN-10 of 0824821645. The least expensive version I found online was at amazon.com

13 December 2013

India Reinstates 1861 British Law Outlawing Homosexuality

A division bench composed of two justices of the Indian Supreme Court has reversed the Delhi High Court, as reported here four years ago, regarding India's 1861 British law criminalizing homosexuality. Although this provision is rarely enforced directly, it has been used by the government and various authorities to harass, extort and bully LGBTs in a manner that should otherwise be unlawful.

While many people have the perception of a national supreme court being omnipotent and able to freely strike down laws, most national supreme courts are reluctant to enter into the realm of politics and will sometimes allow otherwise immoral legislation to stand in deference to the elected branches of government. India is not one of those countries. India's Supreme Court has ordered (motorized) tricycle drivers in Delhi to convert to natural gas. It has more or less shut down the iron mining industry because of rampant, systemic corruption and it has banned public officials charged with corruption from running for re-election. The historic battle between the Supreme Court and the Sansad (Indian Parliament) is so intense that it has regularly passed constitutional amendments to undo decisions of the Supreme Court.

But in this case, a two justice division bench of the Supreme Court ruled that only the Sansad had authority to repeal the criminalization of gay sex. And as if on cue, the ruling Congress Party has now announced that the Supreme Court decision's must be challenged! The government had not been the primary proponent of the Court's review but instead an even stranger (for India) coalition of Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious leaders. Apparently Hindus and Muslims savagely killing each other for no reason other than they are Muslim or Hindu is apparently part of the holy order, but gay sex is not.

Since this is such a bizarre and unexpected outcome, it will be interesting to see if the ruling government has the votes in the Sansad to decriminalize sexuality before the right-wing Hindu nationalist party (which recently made gains in local elections) takes over the national government again and moves India again to the reactionary right.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (a former superior court judge in South Africa) said: "The Supreme Court of India has a long and proud history of defending and expanding protection of human rights. This decision is a regrettable departure from that tradition." She noted that criminalizing homosexuality violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- India is a signatory to the treaty. 

She hoped the Indian Supreme Court would use their own internal review procedures to recall the case before a larger panel of justices --  Justice G.S. Singhvi, who authored the decision also happen to retire on Wednesday, after issuing the opinion.

12 December 2013

Book Review: Packaged Japaneseness

Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni is a professor at Tel Aviv University in the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology and East Asian Studies. She wrote this book at the beginning of her career.

Now, this is not really an LGBT book. This is more about how compulsory heterosexuality functions at the most practical levels in Japan. However, I thought I'd mention it here since with the exception of India and Australia, there seems to be developments in same-sex marriage elsewhere -- including the U.S. Embassy in Manila announcing that they have started processing fiance visas for American citizens with same-sex partners.

As some may be familar, the entire process of a funeral in Japan is arranged and organized by funeral parlors that are run by "mutual benefit" associations or by corporations that were once "mutual benefit" associations. What is considered a traditional Japanese funeral today can be wholly unrecognizable before 1900. In fact, cremation was banned for a while during the Meiji period. In any event, I mention all of this because apparently what is considered to be a "traditional" Japanese wedding follows the same lines. Everyone was married in their village usually when the first child was born or when the husband's father retired from active life, etc.,.

But after World War II, there was a dramatic shift and the funeral parlor people started getting into the wedding business. I don't know how it is today, but as of the mid-1990s, the traditional Japanese wedding had developed a pretty standard protocol. Goldstein-Gidoni goes into this protocol with great detail and some humor. Because of my own interests in diasporic Japanese cultural practices, I found her extended discussions on the makings of "tradition" and cultural production to be highly relevant and useful to me.

And then on a more practical level, it made me think of exactly what the ritual of wedding will look like in my own life. What archetypes will be propitiated? What is the meaning of a wedding? What symbolic values will constellate? I guess this may have always been unconsciously one of my reasons to oppose marriage in general previously.

Her explanations and theoretical discussions were not too dry or academic and easy to relate to other ethnicities and cultures on a more abstract, theoretical level.

The version I read was in English at 216 pages in paper published by the University of Hawai'i Press (June 1997) with an ISBN-10 of 0824819551. The least expensive version I found online was at amazon.com

11 December 2013

Movie Review: Kumare

Okay so this is not a gay movie. At all. But since I do occasionally delve into book reviews that have really no connection to LGBT studies and are almost exclusively about spirituality, I thought I'd review this documentary, Kumare: The True Story of a False Prophet.

Vikram Gandhi, a child of Indian immigrants to the United States, decided to do a documentary about the yoga craze in the United States and critique the "gurus" as sophists. His position was similar to that of Marx's in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: "Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

Guru Kumare
His trip to India to further explore this somehow gave him the idea to transform himself into a guru and do an experiment with unsuspecting Americans -- all the while videotaping everything. But as he develops a following of true believers, he cannot escape the interpersonal emotional bonds he has developed with these people nor can he ignore the responsibility that comes with being a guru -- because he isn't a guru.

Vikram Gandhi growing sadhu-beard

A number of critics felt his documentary was nothing more than a Sacha Cohen Borat mockumentary but with an Indian guru as opposed to a Kazakh journalist. Roger Ebert liked it and Stephen Holden said: "His impersonation was the biggest lie he’s ever told and the greatest truth he’s ever experienced."

 Vikram Gandhi unshaven

I obviously think the movie is great otherwise I wouldn't have taken the time to review it here. As it happened, there was a period in my life when I meditated several hours a day, performed ritualistic prayers to induce trance states and engaged in divination and soothsaying. Older now, I have a greater understanding of the psychological dynamics of the guru-student, but at the time, at some point if the guru vibe sticks, the student has a transformative effect on the guru. Because Vikram was not a "real" guru, the power of the students that flowed to him ended up having a very powerful effect on him. This is something that every priest, counselor, therapist, etc., must learn to deal with or be destroyed by. The scene in the bathroom at the unveiling was very tender and heart-warming, showing that Kumare was not another Borat and that a great truth about life and humanity is being shared.

10 December 2013

01 December 2013

Movie Review: Love Diagnosis, Shattered Wings (Ren Ai Shindan, Tsubasa no Kakera / 恋愛診断, 翼のカケラ)

I have to say that this story was poorly written. The first half of the movie is way too slow and incoherent and the coherent part of the story is the second half but its all rushed because of the time problem.

Plot: Tsubara is an art student whose father has just killed himself. He is bullied by some other teenager and the bullying is witnessed by Leo (who doesn't intervene). Tsubara stumbles through his school looking for a place to wash after being beaten. He runs into the unlocked studio of Kain. He takes a liking to Kain who takes a liking to him. Leo likes Tsubara but is weird about it. Kain and Tsubara grow closer but then its all crushed when Kain seduces Leo. In the end, it turns out that Kain is an archetypal villain who has used his fake innocence to manipulate the situation to try to separate Leo and Tsubara.

I did not enjoy the ending and the story was so jumpy that I'd probably take a pass from watching again in this life time.

30 November 2013

Movie Review: Love Diagnosis, Throb of Fate (Renai Shindan, Unmei no Kodou / 恋愛診断, 運命のコドウ)

I didn't know going into this that these movies are "made for TV" movies, that they are split up like a mini-series, and that, in the end, there are several stories in one season. Although the set up was a little bit adolescent in terms of how these guys fell in love, I thought the story was excellent, although terribly sad. Kei Katsuragi (right, leaning forward) is a doctor in a hospital and feels life is meaningless and seems to have a bad work environment. He somehow ends up drowning in the pool he regularly swims in. Lifeguard Kanade Maki (left, leaning against) is a lifeguard and gym attendant. He gives Katsuragi mouth to mouth and Katsuragi comes back to life. They keep running into each other coincidentally and this eventually turns into a super intense love affair.

The plot keeps twisting and turning and from Katsuragi's perspective, it seems like destiny or fate is operating. It's hard to say much more without revealing important and surprising twists in the plot. But watching this, one will not be disappointed. But keep in mind, this is a tragedy.

29 November 2013

Movie Review: A Frozen Flower (쌍화점 / Ssanghwajeom)

I'm frankly surprised that I did not watch this film sooner. I did get a trip from someone to watch it and put it on a list but was skipped. The movie is based upon the life of the 31st king of the Goryeo dynasty. In real life, it is claimed that after the death of his first wife due to childbearing complications (after a very long period of failing to get pregnant), King Gongmin turned to pederasty for sex and affection. Eventually, one of his young bodyguards, Hong impregnated one of Gongmin's concubines and the concucine and Hong eventually killed Gongmin. The son of the two went on to become King U, the 32nd king of the Goryeo dynasty.

While there is a thread of the pederasty issue, the romance/sex part of the story between Gongmin and Hong doesn't pick up until Hong is a beautiful adult man. In the movie, Hong is the "chief" of a special King's guard made up of young men selected before puberty to be in this special King's guard. Hong is their chief and Gongmin's lover. The age difference in the movie, it is suggested is 7-14 years. Gongmin looks like a teenager when he invites a prepubescent Hong to join the guard.

If you know anything about Asian history, Gongmin served at the end of the Yuan Mongol-Chinese dynasty in the fourteenth century. The Goryeo had submitted to the Yuan -- they had no choice. But the Ming were ascending in China and would shortly end Mongol rule. This struggle between Mongol and Ming spilled over into all the tributary states, like the Goryeo state.

In the movie, this tension is used to add instability to a king who has no interest in his queen (or getting an heir to the throne). He can't get it up and doesn't want to get it up. His queen is a daughter of the Yuan emperor and so getting an heir is important to the Yuan. The Goryeo court is divided about the heir issue but a pro-Yuan noble has been recommended by the Yuan emperor to be crown prince to insure proper succession.

Gongmin asks Hong to attempt to impregnate the queen as the only person he could trust to do the job with discretion. It appears Hong's only sexual or intimate relationship has been with Gongmin. When Hong does it, it turns out both he and the Queen like it and fall in love. Oops!

This complicates Gongmin's plans and the rest of the movie works out how the three of these individuals attempt to work out their own inner conflicts within the realm of their apparent ability to do anything. There is much here that seems anachronistic but I thought it was a well done movie overall. I enjoy listening to music from the geomungo sanjo so I though the soundtrack was also nice.

The lesson, I think, has to do with taking responsibility for one's actions and the failure of revenge to take account of one's own responsibility. This is definitely a must see movie, in my mind.

28 November 2013

Movie Review: Like Grains of Sand (Nagisa no Shindobaddo / 渚のシンドバッド)

Strangely I did not see this movie 20 years ago when it came out and I frankly can't tell why. My only guess is that it didn't make it immediately onto VHS and so I didn't have the opportunity.

It's very disorienting. The severe conformism that I expect to see in a lower middle class Japanese high school was present. But what I didn't expect what how homosexuality in a teenager is handled. The film does an excellent job of capturing teenage angst and awkwardness.

Ito (pictured above, right) is gay and has a huge crush on his best friend Yoshida (left in picture). Kanbara another friend of the two, is jealous at the intimacy between Ito and Yoshida and well tries to bully Ito. In the process of finding ways to torture him, he decides to spread "gay" rumors. To my own surprise, Ito refuses to deny (and even more mildly to avoid and ignore). His father caught him posting a gay ad for older men in the classified ads and sends him to a psychiatrist to be be "cured." Anyways, back to Kanbara and Ito. So Yoshida comes to Ito defense when the bullying gets a little intense. Alone, Ito confesses his intense crush on Yoshida. Then follows a strange and awkard hugging and kissing scene with Yoshida as ambivalent? Anyways, Ito befriends crazy-girl-in-the-class Aihara, who is a transfer student. Somehow Yoshida falls in love with her and a strange triangle is created that ends on the sandy shoreline of Aihara's ancestral village.

This is another one of the movies that would have been to have watched when I was in high school. It also reminded me that youth is wasted on the young. Much of the dramatic emotional expression was so foreign to me that I ended up dwelling on that separately in many scenes. The reactions I expected of characters was lacking. I didn't exactly like the ending, but like my discussion in Fujimi Orchestra, there is this thing in the Japanese psyche of romance/sexuality that is confusing.

26 November 2013

Movie Review: Fujimi Orchestra (富士見二丁目交響楽団 Fujimi Nichōme Kōkyō Gakudan)

This is a psychologically complex movie. We have Tonoin (left) and Morimura (right). Morimura is the head musician in a neighborhood volunteer orchestra. Tonoin appears one day to be the conductor of the group. He has a great resume and his decision to conduct this neighborhood orchestra is considered a tremendous boon to the group. Morimura however can't stand Tonoin. Tonoin takes Morimura violin back to his flat to further discuss their disagreement where Tonoin then rapes Morimura (with Wagner's Tannhauser blasting in the background). Tonoin is supposedly madly in love with Morimura who is self-identified as straight and is majorly introverted (and emo). For reasons that are somewhat opaque to me, Morimura and Tonoin come to some kind of compromise regarding both of them continuing with the neighborhood orchestra although Tonoin continues to try to flirt with Morimura.

The Rapist Embraces His Victim 
In the Victim's Own Dream

I'm somewhat shy to discuss my problems with the rape scene. You see. It wasn't like Uncle Jonbert and Tong in Lihim ni Antonio where Uncle Jonbert has Tong pinned to the table with his strong muscular body while reaching over with his free hand to the butter plate to lube up. Here, the two seem to be of equal strength and a number of shots show positions that are inconsistent with rape - like Morimura being on all fours receiving Tonoin "doggy style." So, the direction and cinematography made the rape scene more of in the style of Japanese porn that selectively uses elements of coercion to titillate. I will never listen to Wagner's Tannhäuser ever again the same way.

Tonoin definitely plays the rapist character well throughout the movie. He lacks boundaries. What he wants he impulsively gets, et.c,. But the Morimura character is someone conflicting. You almost get the sense that what he is rejecting is not the idea of being with Tonoin but his personality. The problem is that the rape, his boyish crush on the female lead flautist, etc., make it all so confusing. I can only guess the director and/or writer were confused and just jumbled together two different characters into one. Morimura even has a long wet dream sequence of kissing and cuddling with Tonoin only to "wake up" in the dream and the tone turns suddenly to nightmare. Everything except the words Morimura speak seem to point to Morimura being gay, but then it just tiptoes at the threshold of consciousness -- even after he's been raped.

That all being said. I think the production was excellent. The soundtrack is great. And overall, I think its worth watching. Just keep in mind the rape issues.

25 November 2013

Movie Review: Gymnasium Baby (Taiikunan Baby / 体育館ベイビー)

 Now there come points in every creative persons life where  they realize that something quite obvious and directly in front of them has been invisible until those points where the point slaps you in the face. Intuitively, I have been watching these yaoi films and I'm like, "why didn't they have these when I was a teenager?" But the more I watched, the more situations I would consider "gay" seemed to recede deeper and deeper into the background until, like a homeopathic remedy, it was no longer discoverable.

But you see, this is the point. I have watched almost ten thousand full length feature films in my life. Most of them involved characters who were heterosexual and the heterosexuality was not in issue and so, was unnoticed (at least in non-misogynistic films, otherwise the compulsory heterosexuality was really revved up and obvious). So how is it that I can watch a series of films with main characters who are gay and stumble wondering what is gay about these films because there is no man-on-man action? The yaoi films I have been reviewing recently are like the opposite of most Philippine gay films. I would say they are like two extremes in a range of romantic-sexual expression.

In Gymnasium Baby, we have Jun Shibahara. He is the product of the school swim coach and a former student (Jun's late mother). Jun is a competitive swimmer who loses to Naoki Murai during a summer invitational. Naoki is his rival which makes the whole thing even more of a loss for Jun. Jun also has a best friend/childhood friend Shouichi Katou.

Meet Yuichi Nakamura as Jun Shibahara

At some point Jun and Naoki are talking late at night at the pool (which happens for some reason to be without water) when Naoki gets up on the short diving platform and dives in backward. Jun catches him where Naoki tells him he knows he's safe with Jun and then kisses him. This sets the stage for Jun to ask Shouichi if he ever thought of being in a romantic relationship with another man. This complicates the whole thing because although Shouichi has a terminally ill "female" friend, he is in love with Jun and dreams of the two of them going to some famous university together -- they study together for the exams and take the exams together. Naoki, on the other hand, is like this ghost that keeps haunting Jun. So its Naoki v. Shouichi and although Naoki is honest about how he feels and Shouichi isn't, it seems like Naoki is the bad guy. The ending is totally unexpected which makes it a great ending.

So, in sum, this is a movie with gay characters and a gay plot with absolutely no gay sex or hint of gay sex. If you have been indoctrinated by a homophobic, patriarchal upbringing, it may be difficult to fully register the value of this film and films like it. But so long as they are available on youtube, I will review them. lol

Movie Review: Kizumomo (キズモモ)

This movie, under certain definitions, is not a gay, yaoi or "boy love" movie. Some consider it just to be "slice of life" Japanese guy movie. There's no hand-holding, no kissing, no play wrestling. I will withhold judgment regarding whether it is or not because I think the overall point has to do with intimacy and the struggle to it that involves two guys (with ambiguous sexual orientations).

The story is simple. Aki is a furita (freeter -- a young Japanese person who chooses part-time work over a salaried position). When he decided to ride his bike through the Japanese countryside, he quits his job and goes. Along the way, he helps a woman who almost loses her 32kg luggage down a pedestrian fly-over when his bike suffers some minor problem. She invites him to come to her house for the evening. There lives "Grampa", a master watchermaker and Masaya, the watchermaker's apprentice.

Aki and Masaya's relations get off to a somewhat mysterious rocky start -- although Masaya is prissy. We then come to learn through a wristwatch Aki wears that doesn't work, that Aki had a childhood friend/love of his life named Hayato who looks exactly like Masaya. The Aki-Masaya tension increases and we learn what has happened between Aki and Hayato.

Because I was expecting an awkward kiss, hand-holding moment, or similar, my mind had to recalibrate a few times to fully accept the narrative drama unfolding in the movie. Nevertheless, it's a G rated movie that you can cuddle with your partner on a date.

24 November 2013

Movie Review: Almost Gay (itsuka no kimi e / いつかの君へ)

I have decided not to stop my continuing examination of Japanese "boy love" genre of films, by private request. I have to say that this movie can't get any more G-rated. Really. Even the MTCRB would have a hard time giving this movie anything by a G rating.

In short, Noboru (left) is an transfer student and/or outcast at a college for fine arts. Hayase is a student that's part of an "in" barkada. Noboru does his own thing with his photography assignments and the photography professors spends a couple of scenes humiliating him in front of his class. After a slow start, Hayase goes kayaking with Sayuki (his obnxious, loud female friend who clearly has a major crush on him). I still don't understand it but somehow Hayase flips his kayak and then drowns. I assume the water was so cold that he went numb before he could react or he went kayaking and didn't know how to swim.

Anyways, Noboru just happens to be sketching, contemplating, taking photos near shore when this happens. Some people drag Hayase to shore and watch his lifeless body and do nothing. Noboru comes to him and gives him mouth to mouth resuscitation which works. Hayase opens his eyes and says Noboru's family name "Fukami?" This sets the stage for the movie. Hayase is overwhelmed by a now conscious set of conflicting feelings about well, Noboru. Hayase stalking Noboru's neighborhood sees someone that looks like Noboru enter a pub. Hayase discovers Noboru has a twin brother (with bleached blonde hair), named Ryu, who is super extroverted and very social adept -- in contrast to Noboru who has been presented as a super introverted and extremely socially awkward guy.

Hayase then starts this bromance with Ryu at night at the pub while developing a weird friendship with Noboru -- after Noboru warns Hayase to have nothing to do with him. This moves the story along quite nice, frankly. Hayase invites Noboru over for dinner although it turns out he doesn't know how to cook. Noboru volunteers and then insists on doing the cooking since he knows what to do. In the process, Noboru cuts his finger and before you can blink, Hayase has Noboru's finger in his mouth.

Okay, I'll leave the plot summary there to avoid any spoilage although let me leave it with a cliff hanger. Sayuki sees Hayase light on in his flat and goes up and knocks on the door and goes hysterical that Hayase has Noboru over for dinner. Then the plot really thickens.

In looking for a picture for this post, I read some of the reviews, in English, about this and there is a big debate that rages over whether this movie is appropriate a yaoi movie. I don't know since although I understand the broad categorical limitations for yaoi, I don't really understand the subtleties about how this is or isn't yaoi. What I can say is that I loved the ending and had it ended any other way, I would have been very disappointed with the movie. It's a slow movie and could probably have been done in a 54 minute TV hour format but its okay.

At 70 minutes, the world does not end. It would have been nice to have movies like this available to me as a teenager. There was so much high school awkwardness in the movie although the homophobia wasn't the main power-struggle -- a nice change. I know everyone claims that yaoi is written by heterosexual women for heterosexual women but I'm certain that young Japanese gay teens access this content which I think is refreshing to the flood of coming out stories produced in the US and Europe.

22 November 2013

Movie Review: Hello my love (헬로우 마이 러브)

The soundtrack and cinematography of this film are just great. It's everything one would expect from a Korean romantic melodrama and so much more. And the character Dong-wha reminded me of Dennis Trillo throughout the movie.

This is the story: Ho-jeon is a popular disc jockey/radio personality dishing out love advice. She is about to be promoted and her childhood sweetheart is returning from a two year stint in Paris. Upon his return, she expects to be proposed to. Won-jae doesn't return alone, though. He returns with Dong-wha, his roommate in Paris, who are set to open a restaurant together. Dong-wha never seems to leave Won-jae's side to the impatience of Ho-jeon. Ho-jeon drops in, unannounced, at the "under construction" restaurant site to find the above scene (turn into a full on make out session). After some drama, Ho-jeon demands Won-jae give her a month, of dates, before fully committing to Dong-wha. The movie then works through (at some level) Ho-jeon's ability to accept that Won-jae and her will not be getting together.

If I didn't know anything about Korean society or Korean gay cinema, I would have been sorely disappointed with the ending. But having forerunners like Bungee Jumping of their Own and No Regret as context, I find the movie to be a "draw" with respect to what I would consider a happy ending for the characters or Korean society in general. Having Trenet's La Mer as one of the many fabulous songs as a soundtrack helped me orient this narrative in the over-all trajectory of capitalism smashing feudal social practices and understandings of the world.

21 November 2013

Movie Review: Forbidden Love (Kindan no Koi/禁断の恋)

Again, I had really no idea what I was going to be seeing with this movie -- its another yaoi themed drama. As the movie progresses, I figured out the overall character relations and narrative but they weren't immediately self-evident. Let me give a plot summary before launching into my marginally relevant tangent:
Sho and Ritsu are in love. Ritsu is an orphan in the charge of Sho's father and there is a few years age difference (maybe 4 to 5). Ritsu is sent off to New York to train to be a fashion designer for a year. Sho and Ritsu promise to be faithful to their intense love for one another although Sho is not in favor of the separation. Ritsu returns and is hired by Sho's father's company and requested to live with Sho and his younger brother Ryu.
Sho is completely depressed and despondent to Ritsu -- he even eats his meals in his room. It finally is discovered that Sho was given an obviously Photoshopped picture of Ritsu and Sho's father embracing in the nude! Ritsu and Sho make up which infuriates Ryu who has -- during the course of the film tried to come on to Ritsu numerous times. Ryu tattles on Ritsu and Sho who wake up to find Sho's father discovering them lying together on a futon in the living room sleeping together. Sho's father forbids any further contact and expels Ritsu. Sho and Ritsu pine for each other and devise a way to reunite. Ryu reveals his incestuously motivated intentions of wanting to be with Sho forever. Sho rejects the unwanted and otherwise repugnant desire. Sho ends up dead (not clear if its suicide or murder).
Now, as the movie progressed I got this image of Kathy Bates as "Nurse" Annie Wilkes in Stephen King's Misery  (i.e. "Shh, darling, trust me -- It's for the best." as she takes the sledgehammer to Paul's ankle) There are a few other twists and turns in the movie but overall, the entire tragedy revolves around Ryu's incestuous desire for his older brother, Sho. The underlying psychological disturbance seems to be one of total possession of his brother but because this is yaoi-drama, it is eroticized. I'm not sure why they chose Forbidden Love as the title because Ryu's incestuous desire is not love, but an eroticized will to power. Maybe they are referring to the ultimately unrequited love between Ritsu and Sho. It kept my attention for the 70 minute run so it wasn't that bad.

20 November 2013

Movie Review: Junjou (Pure Heart) 純情

What exactly did I get myself into? I am quite familiar (in an abstract and theoretical way) with the wildly popular female anime called yaoi which is a female-oriented homoerotic cartoons. And while I have reviewed a movie or two here (like Schoolboy Crush) where the film has been seemingly categorized as yaoi, this is the first yaoi movie that I can say, definitely, is yaoi as to a gay themed movie. This would have been a great movie to watch as a teenager -- oh well. But as an adult, there was something a little too adolescent for me. I have always enjoyed stories about unrequited love, fate, etc.,. But this movie was like walking into the head of a female Japanese high school student where she plays the role of a fem bottom gay in her made up gay world.

The soundtrack was good and the actors did an excellent job. Rakuto Tochihara was convincingly an age-inappropriate naive fem bottom. While the character is supposed to be in his twenties in this movie, you keep forgetting that because he performs so well as a 13 year old with the puppy-dog eyes. Actually Yuta Takahashi also did quite well also. When I think of socially awkward, geeky Japanese boys who are highly conflicted about sexual feelings that they and their society cannot accept, I think of someone that Takahashi acted. Takahashi internally performed the homophobia that was otherwise absent from the film but is wholly pervasive in Japanese culture.

I am also shocked that the underlying complex of themes that make up this narrative is a more adolescent drama version of the happy short story I wrote for the Emo Blogger's Happy Blogging Challenge, entitled Anonymity, almost two years ago.

I will give some major thought to whether I will watch more yaoi movies. Any suggestions are welcome.

19 November 2013

Movie Review: The Depths

I had no information, not even a misleading plot summary, before watching this movie. Unfortunately for me, the first 15 minutes are slow and almost impossible to devise a coherent narrative via thematic apperception. However slow the story unfolds, it unfolds and then picks up speed.

When I was just leaving my adolescence, this half-Japanese, half-Taiwanese young man (from a filthy rich family) was foisted upon me. He was apparently an applicant to be an older professional's "kept boy" and when he didn't make the shortlist, the old man recommended that he become friends with me to get an idea of how to make intelligent conversation, etc., -- at least this is what he told me. I always found that hard to believe because I couldn't imagine my anarchism with Marxist characteristics being the kind of finishing school for "kept boys" of the neoliberal elite. In any event, we were wildly attracted to one another and, I think, spent more time naked, cuddling and making out, in my dorm bed for the week we spent together than anything else. In fact, if I recall correctly, my roommate athlete must have gotten some ideas from this -- when he'd come in and out -- because I recall we started our own relationship shortly after this.

What I took from that -- and which has little to do with this movie -- was that the Japanese style porn where the "school girl" or the bottom gay guy whines/cries has 0% turn on for me. In fact, its a negative because even if he was super attractive and pleasant to touch, that whining turned beauty into revulsion. I could understand his neurotic need to "just wanting to please" me. I fully understood that. But ultimately I think the fact that the whining/rape-theme didn't please me was where he drew his boundary and that, in the end, was that. Maybe it was my criticisms of his luxury-type sports car that also had an effect.

Anyways, as you can see, the movie has this kind of meandering frayed-edges type of narrative, that got triggered in me for me to recount the above. But the threads eventually weave into a highly charged, violently Korean, cathartic story of how our own complexes and general cultural propriety can really fuck up the lives of so many people and where it seems obvious that love should rule, the will to power does. The movie was so brilliant in its subtlety that by the final 1/3rd of the movie, you've almost forgotten the slow beginning.

This movie is definitely an ode to the married gay guy phenomenon and although tragic as that narrative is, but unlike Bungee Jumping of their Own, the story leaves open a future. I look forward to a trajectory of Korean married-gay-guy-cinema that is neither tragedy nor farce.

23 October 2013

Movie Review: Elliot Loves

This does not have cinematic complexity. Instead, this film tells a story that resembles in many ways my experience as an adolescent. In short, we watch a twenty-one year old Elliot who is half Dominican and half Anglo live his life in his quest for "love". In many ways, it feels like caricature of the young person's life and in another way, it bespeaks the life of a young gay man. We learn through a copious amount of flashbacks, the psychological make-up of Elliot. His father was a one time fling with his mother when both were young.

Though its understated, we learn that Elliot's compulsive need for human contact and his majorly distorted path to finding "love" stems, in part, from the narcissism of his mother who neglects him half the time and dangerously comes near to incestuous closeness the other half.

Many of the mundane interactions of "hooking up" and such, were portrayed realistically in the urban working-class, ethnic minority setting in the U.S. There is the hook-up who fails to mention he has a boyfriend. There is the hook-up who springs the "lets do a threesome" after the clothes are off -- who can ever forget that experience in their adolescence. The hook-up who mirrors the almost pathological instant-in-love of the ego only for it wear off in two days.  The only thing that seemed a little fantastic was the range of gay identities among working class Hispanics and the absence of homophobic identity formation. Meaning, even the thugs in this film are all homo.

21 October 2013

Movie Review: Mea Maxima Culpa

While this movie is somewhat outside of the types of films and documentaries that I regularly review, but I thought the film was excellently produced and tells the story of how the Catholic Church, from Cardinal Ratzinger down to lowly diocesan bishops, the Church had an express policy of hiding and covering up child sexual abuse. The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church prioritized the importance of the belief that a priest when consecrated changes ontologically -- merging with the Church -- over the robbed innocence of the children who were raped and abused by priests. The film shows the decline of a stricken church where legal formalism and clerical elitism rule and love is in decline.

The Roman Catholic Church elevated this principle: "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God." (1 John 4:15) over "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." (1 John 4:16)

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) This documentary shows that there was no test and the will to power has reigned supreme in the house of god over love.

I hope that you consider watching this important and well produced documentary about the failures of the Roman Catholic Church in the past and in the present to deal with the great and unnecessary suffering it inflicts on the innocents who seek refuge and protection from it.

14 October 2013

Movie Review: Inspired the Voices Against Prop 8

I have to admit that after watching this movie I feel like I am somewhat from a different epistemological epoch than the current popular culture when it comes to political activism.

The documentary is not about the political action leading up to the vote in the U.S. state of California on the constitutional amendment known as "Prop 8". Instead, this is a documentary about the seemingly spontaneous street demonstrations expressing rage and dissatisfaction over Prop 8 passing after the elect. In fact, the documentary doesn't seem to really get involved in the legal challenges to Prop 8 that occurred after either.

When I was younger, I always assumed the "story" about a political action was generally the actions various tactics taken by the masses agitating for some change by the targeted decision-maker. In this story, however, the story is about protests after the decision-maker (the voters of California) had already made their decision.

It was only on the fringes that some of the real issues with American LGBT communities and political action come to light and only marginally. The main coordinating groups opposing Prop 8 were highly centralized, were not connected to the grass roots and suffered from elitism and insularity (of that professional, educated, upper middle class gay variety).

Like the first two U.S. state constitutional amendment ballot processes involving same-sex marriage (Hawai'i and Alaska in 1998), the same sort of insularity guided the process. While the right wing extremists made strictly emotional appeals to common sense of the average voter, the professional upper class gay "political strategists" were busy executing a two-part strategy of lecturing voters on seemingly irrelevant historical analogies and invoking highly abstract philosophical arguments. Apparently, this political organizing strategy persisted for a decade in the culmination of defeat of protecting California's constitutional right to same-sex marriage in 2008.

As soon as defeat was clear, these same insular out-of-towners packed up their bags and headed back to Washington and New York to leave the grassroots enraged with the collective decision of their communities.

I kept thinking to myself, as I saw the various video of the after-the-fact street demonstrations, where the hell were these people before the election? In Alaska and Hawai'i of 1998, although polling seemed to indicate the constitutional ballot questions outcome would be close, I think everyone involved in that time thought the chances of preventing a ban on same-sex marriage was remote. Polling firms did not account for substantial minimization of reporting opposition to same-sex marriage in their poll designs.

Prominent community leaders failed to clearly and unambiguously express their support for same-sex marriage. And the right wing extremists who acted as proponents of the bans pulled out all of the stops in the final week leading up to election day in Alaska and Hawai'i. Who can forget that one catchy ad in Hawaii comparing same sex marriage to incest marriages and marrying one's dog? It was not a surprise that 69% of voters in Alaska and Hawai'i voted to ban same-sex marriage in 1998.

But in California, in 2008, same-sex marriage as a constitutional right had been recognized in US courts since 1993 (in Hawai'i). Massachusetts and California were actually performing same-sex marriages at the time of the election (with Connecticut set to "go live" a week after the election). Several other states had civil unions for same-sex couples.

So the biggest moral of the story for this documentary is that entitlement is the biggest obstacle to political progress in this world. It seemed by the end, though, that these somewhat spontaneous protests in the streets did get channeled into efforts that would lead to real goals, like repealing Prop 8. I shouldn't let my pessimism about the disorganization of the group get in the way of the fact that I'm happy that the producer of the film took as its primary subjects, activists of color who had been and were organizing the grass roots and had been shunned by the professional, insular upper class elites of the No on Prop 8 movement.

Of course, back in 1996, if you asked me, I would never imagine that same-sex marriage would become the lightning rod issue for the American LGBT movement. In fact, if someone were to recount this story to me, I would have criticized it as being reactionary science fiction with a internalized, homophobic religious twist! In the 1990s, the American LGBT market was just consolidating as a niche market and local and regional community newspapers were folding in favor of glossy national ones and it was only vaguely becoming clear that revolutionary sexuality was yielding in favor of the gay version of "normal".

28 September 2013

27 September 2013

Movie Review: The Wise Kids

I wasn't sure if this movie was a real movie or a documentary. The synopsis I had to work with was this:
In a Baptist church community, three teenage friends contemplate the next stage of life. There's Brea, an introspective pastor's daughter; hyperactive Laura, a devout believer; and Tim, a gay teen navigating his faith as he prepares for college.
I really wasn't sure what to expect and half way through the movie I was wondering if this was a fundamentalist Christian propaganda movie where, at any moment, the gay teen would be whisked off to ex-gay camp.

No, that didn't happen. I would call this movie poetic. While it appears that the movie is an ode to Tim, and in fact, there is an ode to Tim, this movie is not about Tim and his blossoming into a gay adult man from the bowels of fundamentalist American Christianity. This movie is about Christ and Christianity. Tim is not the Christ figure. He represents a new way of living which is in opposition to the old order. But he is not conflicted about this. There is uncertainty but little conflict.

The conflict, the cross to bear, the Yggdrasil from which one must hang, is for another who has planted both feet firmly in the old order but is gay. And that character is Tim's music/drama teacher, Austin. Austin has been married to Elizabeth for eight years. But he has developed an obvious crush on Tim -- who represents the shadow part of his life -- and gawks at every same-aged man that passes within his field of vision. He and his wife cannot bring themselves to discuss this issue. Maybe they ask themselves, what is there to discuss? And they discuss nothing. It has a corrosive effect on the marriage.

The teenagers help to flesh out Austin's conflict in many ways so that when we meet Austin in a scene, we can focus on the incredible weight of tension and conflict he suffers -- silently. Then there is the crush on Tim with all its awkward glory. The movie ends with the conflict and tension never resolving and that is the tragedy of this film. He does not come down from Yggdrasil, collect the runes from the Well of Wyrd. He was not buried. He did not rise again nor does he ascend to heaven. Nor does he sit at the right hand of the father.

It's worth seeing to get a glimpse in the part of America that is rarely shown with any nuance in cinema. That is the white, fundamentalist Christian society in America. It is a society cloaked in mystery and intrigue -- in my mind. Two other posts previously that come to mind are Men Like That and Straight to Jesus. Cone's rendition of Austin helps put a number of fragments together but Tim's successful transition to his own life seems somewhat empty in the face of Austin's unresolved conflict. But Cone sets up the feeling tone of this movie exactly right. Even if I did suspect I was watching fundamentalist propaganda.

24 September 2013

Movie Review: Joshua Tree, 1951

When I don't wonder how my life may have been as a poor urban dweller in early nineteenth century Europe, I sometimes wonder if in my previous life I was a human -- a gay man, my grandfather's generation -- who at some point ended up in southern California in the early 1950s before transitioning into a hippie in the 1960s and then dying prematurely in the early 1970s.

This movie, which is titled Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean, is really a cinematic experience. The cinematography is just great. While the script was a little exposition heavy at times, the acting and the cinematography was, well, just great. The formalism of the movie lends itself to a jarring experience of the emotional life of the characters and James Dean in particular. There is a puerile quality to it that help clarify the contours of the tragic experience of James Dean.

There is set of scenes in the film between Dean and the "Boy on the Beach" where the reflection of puerile sexuality peaks in tragedy. There, Dean and the "boy on the beach" hook up. When it is done, Dean, in a flippant and casual way inquires regarding when they will see each other again. The Boy on the Beach hesitates -- a pregnant pause. The I-don't-give-a-shit-macho-fag routine was called out by a fem bottom in a flippant and casual way. Crushing, tragic.

The movie is not an example of realism in any sense. In fact, its formalism helps to make it seem more real in terms of a historical accounting of this person's life. The memories do not nicely flow one into the other and the chronology is disjunctive. The soundtrack reminds me of memories of that moment just before I entered into the intermediate state, into the poetic flux outside of time and order.

21 September 2013

Movie Review: Gayby

The concept that I thought I was going to watch was interesting. The summary I was given: When yoga teacher Jenn and her gay friend Matt find themselves thirtysomething, single and childless, they decide to parent a baby together. But trouble arises when they discover they have differing ideas about the method of the child's conception.

The story surrounding Matt is mostly believable. But Jenn is a different story. I mean, are there really people in this world that clueless that can somehow eek out a living in a big city? I had contemplated not writing about this movie at all but there are a few lines of dialog (involving Jenn) that I think are great:

PAINTER: What’s wrong? Your color’s off.
JENN: I just had this really terrible date with this judgmental do-gooder douche bag.
P: Oh man, I hate that type.
J: Yeah. And the guy I'm having sex with and the guy I like are both busy. So you know...
P: You're polyamorous? Right on.
J: Yeah. And I'm taking these herbs that are making me feel like all sorts of weird.
P: What kind of weird?
J: Like crazy horny weird.
P: You wanna have sex? I'm basically done here. I've got like half an hour to kill.
J: Let's kill it.

What kind of weird? Like crazy horny weird. It's worth watching the movie just for this dialog.

18 September 2013

Book Review: Buddhism and Abortion

Damien Keown is a British Professor of Buddhist Ethics at Goldsmiths' College at the University of London. He editing this book and wrote in it about abortion in relationship to Buddhist ethics in the modern world.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Buddhism has a quite ambivalent and ambiguous relationship with sexuality. One of the five precepts of all Buddhists is for lay practitioners not engage in illicit sexual acts. But what does that mean? The focus of Buddhism is on salvation, liberation, perfection, etc., etc.,. Sexuality is generally considered to be an obstacle to that (much in the pre-Pauline way that Christ is against marriage, see Matthew 19:12). In that way, for Buddhism, homosexuality and masturbation are considered to have the moral equivalency of heterosexuality. Monks and nuns were prohibited "marrying" individuals. Even that prohibition has been more or less set aside as monks and nuns do bless and participate in marriage ceremonies these days.

I have decided to review this book here to consider other aspects of sexuality -- namely abortion. One of the other five precepts in Buddhism is "not to kill." Like sexuality, what does that mean? For example, in Thailand, Buddhists generally consider a greater harm/sin in eating larger animals and lesser harm/sin in eating smaller animals. The idea is that the intent to kill and the amount of effort needed to kill increases with the size of the animal. In Tibet, Buddhists generally believe the opposite. It is better to eat one large animal for two weeks than to eat twenty small animals for the same amount of time because with one large animal, only one life is taken whereas with the smaller animals more lives are taken. This weighing and considering of course considers nothing of the value of biodiversity and carbon footprints to lessening suffering overall of lives-in-existence.

Keown's edited volume focuses on the current state of abortion in society (in the 1990s) in Thailand, South Korea and Japan along with a debate about Buddhist view's of abortion by western Buddhism. But we see that abortion, in just about every country, is real a mediating symbol for other issues in society: women's bodies, regulation of sexuality, the role of religion in politics, etc.,.

In the US, abortion is viewed in two frames: pro-choice and pro-life. These two discourses have almost no shared assumptions. Consequently, these clashing views constantly must go to court to reach a resolution to any particular problem.The US is one extreme. In much of Europe, there is an inverse correlation between access to abortion and access to child-rearing social services. Japan and Vietnam represent another extreme in terms of the official abortion rate while the Philippines and Ireland rates represent another.

I myself believe that abortion should be legal and readily available to any woman who needs one from a qualified medical practitioner. I also believe that contraception should be made readily available together with appropriate medical information regarding sex to women and men. Preventing the need for abortion is the government's greatest goal in managing abortion rates and when those prevention strategies (appropriate sex education in the schools, access to appropriate medical information and contraception) fail, safe abortion procedures should be readily available.

I understand that abortion was used by a number of states during the twentieth century as a way to engage in ethnic cleansing, political persecution, etc., and that we must be cautious in that regard. Many people who survived those regimes are coldly against abortion in any form. I am not in favor of forced or mandatory abortions -- and this could be challenged as an illusory claim as a poor woman with no resources to raise a child may be "forced" to have an abortion. That may have some validity, but I don't consider that the force or mandate that I refer to above. I'm talking about an individual being forced to do something without their informed consent.

And from my perspective, as a Buddhist, religion should use its power and symbolic resources to then comfort and assist women who have had abortions which are both physically and psychologically intense as they do in Japan by conducting rituals to allow the women to release the psychological burdens and shame they feel from having an abortion. The issue of when life begins is a metaphysical question that has no legal or medical answer. Nevertheless, abortion is a juridical and medical phenomenon and the contours of its legal access is something that can be determined on a juridical and medical basis.

The version I read was a 236 page cloth published by the University of Hawaii Press (May 1, 1998), ISBN-13: 978-0824821081. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at amazon.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

17 September 2013

Movie Review: Out Late

I have written about this topic, sort of, in response to a news article about a grandfather coming out to his gay grandson (and family) in A Grandfather's Struggle with Coming Out. This documentary had promise but I think came up way short.

What interested me in watching this film was how coming out later in life is different and similar to those that come out in their earlier years. But I didn't get much of a comparison. Their biographies and the reasons for not living in an LGBT-identified way for much of their life was the most fascinating part of this documentary.

The Kansas portion where we learn about the struggles of a middle aged lesbian couple with their conservative and conflicted neighbors seemed to be out of place. I failed to see what this had to do with coming "out late" and it seemed much more to be a dramatic tangential feeler for same-sex marriage issues. It was distracting and unfortunate.

Also missing was a discussion of aging in general. Sometimes it felt that we were listening to a twenty year old telling their coming out narrative, from the body of an 80 year old.

In sum, I wouldn't go out of your way to see this. Nevertheless, it has some interesting points.

16 September 2013

Book Review: Angelwings

Fran Martin is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies with the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. She translated and editing this book of queer Taiwanese fiction(but did not contribute any stories).

It is rare that I write about fiction work here. I enjoyed two of the stories especially and decided to include it here, in the event that someone else is curious about Taiwanese gay/lebsian/queer literature.

The two stories I particularly enjoyed were Hsu Yoshen's "Stones on the Shore" and Lin Yuyi's "The Boy in the Pink Orchid Tree". Hsu's story is an interesting representation of diasporic Chinese queer life in American while Lin's work manipulated my soft spot for unrequited love in narrative.

Some of the other stories were a bit tedious for me and I have to admit that I didn't connect with the lesbian stories. I don't know if that was the style of author or it came out in translation that way. It certainly wasn't the translator's problem because I really liked Hsu and Lin's stories. Chi Tawei's "A Stranger's ID" was written well but very depressing and left me with a sense of meaninglessness about life.

The anthology presents a snapshot of LGBT life in Taiwan of the 1970s-1990s.

The version I read was a 247 page cloth published by the University of Hawaii Press (February 2003), ISBN-13: 978-0824826529. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

15 September 2013

Movie Review: Any Day Now

To be perfectly honest, I avoided watching this movie because all of the posters I saw prominently feature Alan Cumming. I don't even know what my bias was/is with that. Maybe he's so good at being a sleazeball as Eli Gold in The Good Wife series that I developed an unconscious dislike for him.

The plot summary I always saw said this: "Rudy and Paul take in their neighbor's teenage son Marco, who has Down syndrome, when his neglectful mother throws him out of her apartment." My eyes must have glazed over or something like that because I just discovered that same plot summary ended with: "Their attempt to legally adopt Marco sparks a court battle over gay rights in this powerful true story."

Well, I'm glad I ignored my own ignorance and watched it. Alan Cumming gives an Oscar winning performance as a working-class, East-coast drag queen living in California. I guess Hollywood has gay fatigue or something that he didn't get an Oscar nod. I mean I think George Clooney and Jean DuJardin were good choices but I think Gary Oldman or Brad Pitt should have given way to Alan Cumming in this performance.

The plot summary says it all yet reveals nothing of the narrative or the brilliant acting that make this movie such a great film. The narrative itself is propletic. For many urban gay American cinema watchers, the idea that the various actors in the legal system would conspire together to deprive a non-white Down syndrome child of a loving home simply because it has two daddies is something telescoped into the 1970s and earlier. Yet, this story was based on a legal case that occurred just 5 years ago in the US state of Florida. While West Hollywood jurists may have only done these sorts of things 35 years ago, there are many places in America today where justice is dispensed by the prejudicial whims of bigoted jurists.

I also discovered that Alan Cumming is gay and married to a man and that he took his role in the movie for union wages. Amazing. I'm glad I watched the movie and I hope you will too.

14 September 2013

Book Review: Gender and Change in Hong Kong

Eliza W.Y. Lee is a Professor and Chair of the Department Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong. She edited the volume and wrote the chapter on women in the legal profession in Hong Kong.

I have to admit that I was again looking, in a futile attempt, for some real meaty substance on sexuality in a gender/women studies book. First time shame on you, second time shame on me! Haha. Anyways, there were parts, that I found dreadfully boring. I like drama and contention in my social science narrative and sometimes some of the more traditional analyses can get as dry as a biscuit.

The three chapters that I found most interesting (although even they at times seemed to waver in their commitment to suspense and drama in historical analysis) were the women in the legal profession, the development of anti-discrimination law, and the legal and political consequences of Hong Kong citizenship laws with respect to hetero/sexualities that did not respect national boundaries.

The chapter on the shift to cheap, female, Mainland labor from Hong Kong as it moved from export manufacturing to services was very dry. The chapter on the history of women's movements in modern Hong Kong was boring. I didn't know any of the people she mentioned and the historical references were too far and between to keep my attention. Finally, the chapter on gender identity and religion got off on the wrong foot with sweeping generalizations about Christianity that even I couldn't ignore as it cascaded from page to page.

So what I found the most interesting was the issue of sexuality and  citizenship. I consider any legal system that differentiates between legitimate and illegitimate children to be hopelessly feudal. While a government may have a rational basis to distinguish between lawfully married spouses and a mistress, the government has no such basis to distinguish between the children that arise from those two types of relationships. Children are not merely extension or objects of the mother and so their legal status before the law or legal relationship to each of their parents cannot be rationally derived to their parents legal relationship to each other.

 I was not keenly aware that this has been a long simmering issue in Hong Kong. I recall once a person from Hong Kong telling me derisively about wealthy mainlanders coming to Hong Kong to have their babies to obtain residency (I assume under the jus soli principle and it somehow being extended to the parents of a child born in Hong Kong). But I didn't know that Hong Kong people were having children in the Mainland with each other and through extra marital affairs. The chapter focuses on the time in 1997 when a large number of persons on the Mainland entitled, under the jus sanguinis provision of the Basic Law, applied for residency in Hong Kong.

The popular discourse at the time was that these were the children of concubines (banned as a lawful practice in Hong Kong only in 1971) and that the law itself was intended for middle and upper class professional expatriates abroad. In reality, as to the first point, most of the people applying for residency were more likely the products of lawful marriages. This issue brought up just about every conceivable political, moral and legal issue one can think of as it relates to compulsory heterosexuality and patriarchy.

I also found the chapter on the development of anti-discrimination law in Hong Kong to be well written. I was kept interested in an area that can easily become incredibly boring. It also makes me think of all the ways in which the law both legislative and juridical continues to reinforce patriarchy time and time again through seemingly innocent, gender neutral applications of sexist, patriarchical laws.

The version I read was a 224 paperback published by the University of British Columbia Press (August, 2003), ISBN-13: 978-0774809948. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

12 September 2013

Book Review: Deadly Dialectics

Roy Starrs is an associate professor of Japanese at the University of Otago, New Zealand.  This was one of his first books upon becoming an academic.

I'll be frank with you. I have no idea how this ended up in my pile of books. I've written about Beautiful Mystery and Yukio Mishima previously. Let me liberally quote from that previous blog entry:
Mishima was a famous Japanese nationalist after the Japanese lost World War II. He joined the paramilitary force in Japan and in 1970 staged a take over of the office of one of the commanders of the paramilitary. It was unsuccessful and he and his friends committed seppuku -- although it took a few whacks to behead him apparently. He was hated by the political left in Japan for his nationalistic samurai-worship and by the regular nutty Japanese nationalists for insisting that Hirohito should have abdicated and taken responsibility for the war dead.
Got it? So with Beautiful Mystery I felt it was mostly gratuitous sex-violence/soft-porn action going on. Nothing too deep. Well, everything critical, clinical and analytical missing from that movie was packed into this book. I'm so unfamiliar with authors who are not (1) Marxist, (2) post-structuralist or (3) Jungian, that it's weird to believe that the bulk of literary criticism is written in this style -- which can get a tad dry for me and seemed to lack any kind of intensity.

Okay so the book and Yukio Mishima. I still haven't read any of his books and this book doesn't make me want to change my mind. The phrase that repeats in my head is that Mishima eroticized his own violent death. I'm not into S&M and the one time I tried anything remotely down that path, I had a hard time not laughing until I felt the slightest bit of discomfort and I stopped everything. It's hard for me to empathize with S&M in its physical, external realm -- I fully appreciate its inner workings and psychological dynamics. I freely admit it. So it's hard for me to really understand how someone could eroticize his own violent death or how someone could commit suicide and "get off" on it.

This book didn't really get me to that place where Mishima was when he committed sepukku and two of his love slaves struggled to whack his head off but it got me closer than Beautiful Mystery. I found the discussion of Nietzsche and nihilism to be somewhat jarring. Perhaps in the conventional literary criticism world everyone know what is meant when one refers to Nietzsche's work or how nihilist thinkers appropriated Nietzsche's work. I have a different experience of Nietzsche's work so there were times where I was confused and not sure if Starrs was saying Nietzsche's thought was nihilistic or not -- maybe he was himself confused.

The psychology chapter was very disappointing and well, I'll just leave it at that. What was underdone with Nietzsche was wholly lacking for the psychology section. I consider a psychological analysis to begin with a methodology for the analysis. A quote from Freud here, Adler there wasn't enough. The use of Nietzsche for psychological purposes just after the confusing meanderings in the previous chapters no his philosophy didn't help. Starr's analysis of Foucault as self-hating lacked any indicia of critical or clinical credibility and seemed to be solely a way to dismiss the "pre-eminent Nietzschean of our time". For me, it's almost cheating to go to the post-mortem unauthorized biography of a philosophy to make the shallow comparison between Mishima and Foucault stick. Why not cite to Foucault's work? I see no resemblance between Foucault's work and Mishima's.

The version I read was a 232 paperback published by the University of Hawaii Press (June  1, 1994), ISBN-10: 0824816315. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

11 September 2013

Movie Review: Keep the Lights On

This movie involves two main characters, a gay Dutch(?) filmmaker and an American attorney with a drug problem. I had no idea this movie had anything to do with drug addiction and if I had known, I probably would not have watched it. Naked Lunch, Requiem for a Dream, Fear and Loathing, anyone? No, there were no typewriters that turned into mechanical insects that attacked helpless junkie writers. No elderly mothers compulsive vacuuming late into the night. No bar scenes in Vegas. Instead, we get what many young gay men end up in, a control-domination type co-dependent relationship that with the additional layer of drug addiction was frankly nauseating.

The film captures what I can only dream is what its like to be thiry-something and not in a stable, long-term loving relationship -- yep, I have some biases, what can I say? The film captures what I consider the shadow-side of the "blight lights" glory of Queer as Folk living.

That being said, it slows down after the half way point and doesn't seem to pick up again. Zachary Booth ends up being too pretty after years of drug abuse by the midpoint of the movie to be believable and that ends up amplifying the slow down. If you'd like to watch a study of what it looks like between two men in a relationship where one is possessive and the other has a serious drug problem, this is your movie. Otherwise, I'd skip this one.

09 September 2013

Book Review: Sex and Borders

Leslie Ann Jeffrey is a Canadian professor of political science in the Department of History and Political Science, University of New Brunswick. After the last book about Thai "gender and sexuality", I was hopeful the picture on the book meant that we were going to be looking at things a little more holistically.

Again, I was wrong. Apparently when women studies authors write about prostitution in Thailand, they write about heterosexual women and the men who oppress them. If anyone can recommend a book analyzing male prostitution in Thailand and what that says about the gender hierarchy, oppression of women, repression of desire, etc., please let me know. I'm interested.

Even with that little caveat, I really enjoyed this book. It was a political and historical account of how patriarchical Thai society and how global flows of ideas, capital, etc., had an impact on Thai society and the Thai state's nation-making through enforcing strict gender hierarchies.

Jeffrey also indirectly tells an important lesson about nationalism -- to which I am a great skeptic, in all but the most limited ways. Nationalism was used by the military to control the populace and justify whatever it wanted to do with society. In the 1960s and 1970s, students and the middle class began to appropriate the structure of nationalist discourse to critique the military and its relationship to the U.S. military. More recently, nationalism is used by the economic elite to extract surplus capital. As I say, nationalism is a useful boat to cross the river of independence. But, once on the other shore, it is nothing but a burden to then carry that boat on our backs when the next step requires us to walk into the forest of a new world.

On another topic, prostitution books always make me wonder if its really just inertia that prostitution is by-and-large criminalized the world over. It seems to be that if there is a real concern for those who profess prostitution, prostitution would be legalized and tightly regulated: weekly or twice-monthly blood tests, paying of income tax, employment based health insurance, unemployment insurance, temporary disability insurance, worker's compensation/employer liability insurance, compulsory contributions to a private retirement fund scheme (not to mention mandatory contributions to public social security insurance scheme), and protection from organized crime, corrupt government officials, petty criminals and violence that criminalization of prostitution allows. Of course, every time I say this in most feminist circles, I'm condemned as a patriarch, sexist pig who wants to rape women (really? really.) I still fail to see more than a hidden religious or patriarchical agenda in criminalizing prostitution (the criminalization of the solicitation of prostitutes is a slightly different story, but I digress) and an only thinly veiled religious one in the well financed international "rescue" industry. Sexual slavery is real and it is a problem and I can't, for the life of me, see how criminalizing prostitutes helps resolve that problem.

In any event, Jeffrey covers many of these issues in great historical and interesting detail primarily as it relates to Thailand and if you were to read one book on the history of the Thai gender structures, this would be that book.

The version I read was a 252 paperback published by the University of Hawaii Press  (February 1, 2003), ISBN-13: 978-0824826185. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com (if you include shipping in your calculations).

07 September 2013

Movie Review: White Frog

This movie by Quentin Lee was quite interesting. The direction and cinematography was better than the last movie of his I watched although I was disappointed that the "gay" part of the movie came at the very end. (Semi Spoiler Alert: This is a ABC/Disney afterschool special where the "gay" theme drops in at the end to create a problem for the characters to solve.)

Booboo Stewart is a great actor but I found his part Blackfoot American Indian ancestry to be a bit distracting visually among his "pure" Asian family -- or maybe it was his previous playing an American Indian werewolf in one of the Twilight movies. Nevertheless, his acting was good enough to suspend disbelief most of the time.

The plot, as I was told it was thus:
Nick, who has Asperger's syndrome, struggles to carry on after the death of his brother Chaz. Their parents have their own problems coping with the loss, but Chaz's best friend takes Nick under his wing.
Actually, it's Chaz's best friends who take Nick under his wing. Since there is no gay mention in the synopsis, perhaps I should have known better. I found the movie to be very interesting anyways but not for the LGBT reasons. That part came way too late and was way too rushed. Of course, if I were a 15 year old watching this on an ABC/Disney television channel and not exposed to much of anything, I'd probably feel different.

I've never heard of Harry Shum Jr before and although he only appears, as Chaz, now and then as a figment of Nick (Booboo Stewart)'s imagination, he almost feels like eye candy in the movie more than anything else. I felt the script was a bit unfair to BD Wong and that the background information on the characters had apparent conflicts or were not deeply enough explored to avoid the conflicting vibe.

Anyways, even just to see BD Wong, Harry Shum Jr and Booboo Stewart, if nothing else, it's worth a watch. Actually most of the male cast involve really pretty boys. It's actually a little distracting, like I'm watching Star Cinema but everyone is speaking English with a Valley Boy accent. My hope is that Quentin Lee can find more nuanced, deeper stories in the future to direct.

06 September 2013

Book Review: Marital Acts

Jiemin Bao is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Although subtitled: Gender, Sexuality and Identity Among the Chinese Thai Diaspora, I think it would have been more appropriately subtitled: identity and women among the thai, chinese thai and the chinese thai diaspora.

I have to admit that my interest in the Chinese diaspora -- in Thailand -- is not incredibly high. I have read a number articles and chapters on the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, the Chinese diaspora in Asia and in the U.S. There was some overload here, I have to admit. But on the other hand, I got a lot of interesting information about how we make the world through the eyes of Chinese Thai.

I'm always surprised how patriarchy works to structure people's lives and how wholly unfair it is that women's sexuality is so severely limited while men's sexuality is so severely not. I'm not arguing that men's sexuality needs to be more highly regulated. Rather, there ought to be equality of non/regulation among sexuality in general. With that, there is the need for access to proper medical information, sexual health education and adequate and accessible medicine and medical procedures. The ethnographical information about Thais and Chinese Thai was interesting.

The version I read was a 252 paperback published by the University of Hawaii Press  (November 1, 2004), ISBN-13: 978-0824828790. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com.