Taiwan Cinema Spotlight

The third annual Taiwan Cinema Spotlight, a partnership between Pacific Arts Movement, the Taiwan Academy, and the Museum of Photographic Arts, returns June 25-26, 2016. The annual program at MOPA focuses on a different aspect of Taiwanese cinema each year, which could be a genre, director, era, or theme.

Taiwan has the remarkable distinction of having a national cinema in many ways founded upon LGBT stories. In its lowest decade, at least in terms of film output, Taiwanese productions like Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet (1993), Tsai Ming-liang’s Vive l’amour (1994) and The River (1997), and Lin Cheng-sheng’s Murmur of Youth (1997) gave Taiwanese cinema a name on the international film festival circuit. And from the rubble of a devastated mainstream film industry came the surprising box office hits of teen romances like Blue Gate Crossing (2002) and Formula 17 (2004), proving that Taiwanese films could make money in Taiwan and in the Asian region, and setting the stage for later blockbusters like Cape No. 7, Monga, and You Are the Apple of My Eye.

This series acknowledges the essential role of LGBT content in Taiwanese cinema, a testament to the ways industrial uncertainty mixed with a relatively hospitable environment to produce an unprecedented phenomenon in world film history, whereby LGBT cinema became by design or accident, the critical jump start to relaunching a national cinema. The process left a number of memorable films, as diverse in their approaches to film as they are in their takes on love and society.

Saturday, June 25, 2016:

4pm (free screening)
BLUE GATE CROSSING
Yee Chin-yen, 2002, 85 mins.

The truism that being in love is the ultimate solitude is told by director Yee Chin-yen with the sweet regret of a waning afternoon. High schooler Kerou pines for her best female friend Yuezhen, who she’s so smitten by that she can’t refuse participating in any of Yuezhen’s crazy plans, which unfortunately includes trying to woo a boy. Teenage love triangles are rarely as tender and warm with the longing passions of youth as in Blue Gate Crossing, the romantic comedy that made local Taiwanese films hip again, and put LGBT themes right at the center of the industry’s mainstream renaissance.

7pm
THE RIVER
Tsai Ming-liang, 1997, 111 mins.

Tsai Ming-liang’s most despairing film – and perhaps his greatest – features one of cinema’s most broken families. So broken in fact that father, mother, and son have retreated into their own numbed silence where energies are rejuvenated only in base bodily functions and the extended durations of waiting, captured peerlessly through Tsai’s signature long takes. Tsai finds light though, not in the comfort of drama or genre, but in the absurdity of a film set and by peering through the shadows of a gay sauna. Pleasure binds these isolated bodies to the rest of the world, but whether it can heal a family remains Tsai’s most provocative question, to which he responds with one of the most wrenching final sequences in all of contemporary cinema.

Sunday, June 26, 2016:

4pm (free screening)
BOYS FOR BEAUTY
Mickey Chen, 1999, 60 mins.

Mickey Chen is one of the great documentary-activists of Taiwanese cinema, and Boys for Beauty is his breakthrough, a lively and humorous chronicle of gay youth that was a critical and commercial hit. Three teens enchant with snide commentary about their lives as social outsiders during a decade that saw Taiwan undergo major political and cultural shifts. A cross-dressing performer wows, boys announce their break-ups with aplomb, friend groups fissure as they tend to do in high school, and most movingly, families testify about gay sons in ways that defy simple moralization.

7pm
DRIFTING FLOWERS
Zero Chou, 2008, 97 mins.

Floating across years and lifetimes, this triptych of women finding love seeps its stories in an other-worldly sense of shivering beauty as hypnotically fleeting as the flowers of its title. A blind chanteuse falls for a charismatic butch accordionist. An older woman and her gay “husband” bond over their illnesses. Past and present, young and old, thread together with a graceful yearning and the old-school pulse of Taiwanese pop songs. Zero Chou, Taiwan’s first out lesbian filmmaker, has long been one of Taiwan’s premier directors, and with Drifting Flowers, delivers her most elegiac, elegant film of all.

Purchase tickets online via the Museum of Photographic Arts. Individual tickets are $10 or $8 for Pac Arts or MOPA members. See all four films for a special weekend pass rate of $15.

All screenings will take place at the Museum of Photographic Arts (1649 El Prado San Diego, CA 92101).