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Celluloid Comrades

Song Hwee Lim

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

Most first-book acknowledgments begin with thanking one’s PhD supervisors. I would like to go back a little further in acknowledging my intellectual and other debts. My first love was literature, and it was during my undergraduate days (1985–1989) at the National Taiwan University (Taida) that Ko Ching-ming and Wang Wen-hsing first demonstrated New Criticism–style close reading to me. ...

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Note on Chinese Romanization, Translation, and Periodization

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pp. xv

As a general rule I have used Hanyu pinyin for Chinese names and phrases throughout the book, except for habitual spellings such as Sun Yat-sen and Kuomintang, and where possible for names of those who come from outside mainland China. Names of film characters appear mainly as they do in the films’ English subtitles. ...

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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

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1 Screening Homosexuality

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pp. 19-40

From the interracial couple in The Wedding Banquet and the diasporic sojourners in Happy Together to the cross-dressing opera actor in Farewell My Concubine and the incestuous father and son in The 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. ...

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2 The Burden of Representation: Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet

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pp. 41-68

Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet is 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’s Farewell My Concubine won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May 1993).1 ...

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3 The Uses of Femininity: Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine and Zhang Yuan’s East Palace, West Palace

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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. ...

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4 Travelling Sexualities: Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together

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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 as Rexue nan’er, 1988), brought him critical attention in Hong Kong, but it was his subsequent films such as Days of Being Wild (A Fei zhengzhuan, 1990), Ashes of Time (Dongxie Xidu 1994)...

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5 Confessing Desire: The Poetics of Tsai Ming-liang’s Queer Cinema

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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.” ...

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6 Fragments of Darkness: Stanley Kwan as Gay Director

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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. ...

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pp. 180-185

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. ...


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pp. 187-209


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pp. 211-215

Glossary of Chinese Characters

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pp. 217-220

Works Cited

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pp. 221-239


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pp. 241-247

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861780
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829094

Publication Year: 2006