Four LGBTQ shorts currently streaming at the LA Chinese Film Festival

Society & Culture

The Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival is currently holding virtual screenings until February 5. On Montage, viewers can watch, for free, four LGBTQ-themed shorts.

While COVID-19 has canceled film festivals left and right this past year, the Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival (LACFF) has persevered, hosting its films online. For its first showcase of 2021, the LACFF is teaming up with the Chinese Rainbow Network, the UCLA LGBTQ Campus Resource Center, the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival, and the Shanghai-based non-profit unCoVer to program virtual screenings of LGBTQ films by filmmakers from China, Taiwan, and the United States. The showcase, running from January 18 to February 5 on the streaming service Montage, features four shorts: We Outlaws (红群下 hóng qún xià), SHe (筑位 zhù wèi), Mom’s Clothes, and The Last Lesbian (末代百合 mòdài bǎihé).

Set in the 1990s, Wáng Kǎixuán’s 王凯旋 We Outlaws is the story of Chen, a quiet factory worker forced to cover up her life as a trans woman. During the day, Chen presents herself as a man to avoid intolerant coworkers and a government that considers her lifestyle “indecent.” When she finds the courage to go out at night as her authentic self, Chen visits a rowdy nightclub. There, she meets a man named Lee Guotao, who might or might not be interested in her. The strangers’ next few encounters lead to a tragic ending, but Chen is admirable and brave, refusing to bow down. We Outlaws is a beautiful short, and its lead, Sòng Ziháo 宋子豪, gives a nuanced, remarkable performance.

The second film, Kuo Hsin-Ying’s (郭昕盈 Guō Xīnyíng) SHe, is a documentary about a Taiwanese lesbian couple named Chiku and Wei. Over email, Kuo told me she met the pair while volunteering in the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, spending a year-and-a-half documenting their case. At the time of filming, Taiwan hadn’t yet legalized same-sex marriage, so Chiku (a trans woman) had to register herself as a man in order to marry Wei. As it follows Chiku and Wei’s marriage, SHe reflects about the strict and limited confines of society’s expectations for gender identity. Some people flat-out deny this couple, referring to Chiku as Wei’s husband. In a particularly uncomfortable scene, Chiku sits with her mother as she discusses mixed feelings about her child’s coming-out. “I see her satisfied dressing like a girl,” the mother remarks. “I still find it hard to bear her change.”

— Edge of Frame (@EdgeofFrame) December 6, 2018

Chinese-American filmmaker Jordan Wong’s Mom’s Clothes is an experimental piece using animation, scrolling fabrics, and a lone narrator. On his website, Wong calls it “a nonfiction reflection on being out of the closet.” For five minutes, lovely fabric patterns of flowers, tigers, and other designs flash, twirl, and dance on the screen. The narrator, the only voice we hear in the film, speaks in dialogue that mixes up poetry with raw confession on the queer experience. “It’s so invigorating spending your day with queer friends,” he notes. “Free of judgement. With no rules or God to guide us.”

The final film of the collection is Olivia Liu’s The Last Lesbian, a genre-bending comedy full of surprises. In this sci-fi romantic road trip, the gay population has been exiled to another planet in the year 2318. Susannah, the last lesbian on earth, is tasked with traveling back in time to prevent the birth of the leader responsible for the expulsion. Having only a limited time to act, Susannah trails the evil politician’s mother Bella, a narcissistic Instagram model. With its bubbly humor in an otherwise dark premise, The Last Lesbian is a quirky and delightful short. It’s generally lighthearted, but has a few moments of serious self-discovery, such as when Susannah spends the night with the same woman who’s responsible for eventually giving birth to a man “worse than Hitler.”

The LACFF LGBTQ Shorts Showcase 2021 is a wonderful celebration of LGBTQ characters and themes. With only four films, it’s a small collection, but remarkably diverse, consisting of the avant-garde, comedy, drama, and documentary. Despite the differences in genre and tone, these shorts are all united in their affirmation and love for the LGBTQ community. There are a few weekends to go before the films leave Montage, but you should definitely check them all out in time for the festival’s virtual Q&A session with the filmmakers on Saturday, January 30.