Every June, we celebrate Pride Month. This June, here are some of the most interesting Asian LGBTQ+ films you should watch, or add to your watch list for any and every month thereafter.
June is observed as the International Pride Month, and it is celebrated in many ways. While some take to the streets, waving the rainbow flag in jubilant processions, others might choose to stay back at home for some quiet time. For the latter, we have listed some of the best Asian LGBTQ+ movies that they can watch throughout the Pride Month and be a part of the celebrations in their own way.
Capturing themes, such as gay marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity, juxtaposed against societal restraints, these LGBTQ+ movies have become a powerful medium to spread awareness and depict the struggles of the community to a larger audience. Additionally, each Asian nation’s own stance on community plays an active role in making these movies more nuanced.
Asian LGBTQ+ films that you must add to your watch list
Happy Together (1997)
Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together was ahead of its time and a massive success. One of the best Asian LGBTQ+ cinematic gems, the story revolves around the journey of protagonists Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Chiu Wai-Leung) and Ho Po-Wing (the late Leslie Cheung).
As the two men find themselves drifting away from each other and their relationship turning toxic, they embark on a holiday from Hong Kong to Argentina. The gay couple goes on a road trip via Buenos Aires to reach the Iguazu Falls becomes a way to mend their failing relationship.
However, things take a drastic turn and Lai starts to work at a tango bar to make money for his return trip to home. One day when Ho shows up beaten and bruised, Lai takes him in but realises that the intimacy they once had is missing. The two men’s lives become increasingly different as they go separate ways. The film also stars Chan Cheng and Gregory Dayton in prominent roles.
This Wong Kar Wai film was nominated for the Palme d’Or and earned him the Best Director Award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.
Watch Happy Together here.
Suk Suk (2019)
Eschewing the usual recipe of queer films that show young people, Suk Suk, also known as Twilight’s Kiss, depicts the life and journey of two closeted gay men in Hong Kong, who are in their twilight years.
Pak (Tai-Bo) is a 70-year-old married man with a grown son and daughter. He drives a cab around the city, which gives him an opportunity to visit male pickup spots. On the other hand, Hoi (Ben Yuen) is a 65-year-old single father who lives with his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Hoi is attached to a ‘gay and gray’ club but conceals it from his family.
The two meet in a chance encounter and soon develop a close bond. The story then depicts how they deal with societal restraints and the difficulties they face. One of the most heart-wrenching Asian LGBTQ+ movies, it is helmed by Ray Yeung and is inspired by the non-fiction book Oral History of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong (2014). The film also features Patra Au, Lo Chun Yip, Kong To and Yiu-Sing Lam.
In 2020, Suk Suk won the Best Narrative Feature at the Florence Queer Festival and was nominated for the Grand Prix at Brussels International Film Festival.
Watch Suk Suk here.
Your Name Engraved Herein (2020)
Helmed by Kuang- Hui Liu, this is a stunning masterpiece made in Taiwan. Released shortly after the country legalised same-sex marriage, Your Name Engraved Herein became one of the highest-grossing and critically acclaimed films in the country.
The movie is set in the 1980s when Taiwan had just gotten rid of martial law. Two students, Wang Bo Te (Tseng Ching-Hua), aka Birdy, and Chang Jia Han (Edward Chen), aka A-Han, meet through their school band and fall in love. The two boys have to fight society’s scorn against homosexuals and family pressure to make their relationship work. They go through rough patches and Birdy gets close to a girl. However, he soon realises where his true affections lie.
A great example of Asian cinema and a fitting tribute to the LGBTQ+ community, the movie also stars Fabio Grangeon, Barry Qu and Lance Chiu. The movie bagged five Golden Horse Award nominations, of which it won two — best cinematography and best original film song. The other nominations were for best supporting actor, best new performer and best original film score.
Watch Your Name Engraved Herein here.
Super Deluxe (2019)
One of the most critically acclaimed films in India, Super Deluxe is a Tamil gem that traces four parallel stories. It depicts the perils of four people, each of whom is fighting their own battles.
The plot revolves around a transgender woman, Shilpa (Vijay Sethupati) who returns to her family after almost seven years and wishes to meet her son Raasu Kutti (Ashwanth Ashokkumar). Shilpa is treated harshly by her former wife and is severely beaten by a cold, heartless cop. She is further pained by the way society belittles her every day.
Directed by celebrated filmmaker Thiagarajan Kumararaja, Super Deluxe showcases masterful storytelling and an immensely talented cast. Vijay Sethupathi was named the best supporting actor and won the Silver Lotus Award at the National Film Awards in 2020. The other parallel plots are equally intriguing and have Samantha Akkineni, Ramya Krishnan and Mysskin essaying prominent roles.
Watch Super Deluxe here.
Dear Ex (2018)
After Song Chengxi (Joseph Huang)’s father dies, the young teenager finds out a horrifying truth. He is caught in a feud involving his mother and his deceased father’s insurance benefactor, as well as his gay lover Jay (Roy Chiu). Jay is a free-spirited soul and is posed against Song’s mother who is determined to get the money for her son’s education.
The drama-comedy film ensures a whirlwind of emotions as the characters try to traverse their way through grief, motherhood, life-altering revelations and much more.
In 2019, Taiwan became the first and only country to legalise same-sex marriage in Asia. Following which, several other Asian nations became more inclusive and took steps to give equal rights to same-sex couples. One of the best Asian LGBTQ+ movies, Dear Ex mirrors the Taiwanese society and its attitude toward gay men.
In 2018, the film won three Golden Horse Awards. It also stars Spark Chen, Li Yin Yang and Fang Wan.
Watch Dear Ex here.
Lan Yu (2001)
Covering various themes of commitment issues, attachment, love, Lan Yu depicts issues between a young gay student and a middle-aged businessman.
In this Chinese title, director Stanley Kwan shows Lan Yu (Ye Liu) struggling to earn money to fund his studies. At such a juncture, he meets Chen Handong (Jun Hu) at a gay pool hall and is taken by his charms. They begin to meet more often and Lan soon gets deeply attached to this man. However, Chen refuses to make any commitments and tells him that he is there for all things casual. Later, Lan is left broken when he sees Chen with another boy. What happens next makes this romantic drama an interesting watch.
Made without the permission of the Chinese government, Lan Yu was screened at the Cannes Film Festival under the Un Certain Regard category. The movie also stars He Du, Shuang Li, Minfen Zhao and Fang Lu.
The Handmaiden (2016)
Set in 1930s’ Korea, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, a young girl named Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) is hired as a handmaiden to a wealthy Japanese heiress named Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). But there’s more than what meets the eyes.
The plot revolves around Sook-Hee being puppeteered by a con man posing as Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo). He intends to seduce the lady to defraud her. However, a deep relationship begins to grow between Lady Hideko and her handmaiden.
The thriller, directed by Park Chan-wook, is based on a 2002 novel titled Fingersmith. It adeptly portrays the turbulent relationship, betrayal and mystery and stars Cho Jin-woong, Moon So-ri and Yong-nyeo Lee.
Watch The Handmaiden here.
Helmed by Palatpol Mingpornpichit, the film explores the situation of same-sex marriage in Thailand and what it takes to be two fathers of an adopted child.
The story follows the life of Phoon (Asda Panichkul) and Yuke (Nat Sakdatorn) who have been a couple for over 13 years. They adopt an infant boy named Butr (Aritach Pipattangkul), who was abandoned by his biological parents at birth.
When Butr grows up and joins elementary school, he is mocked by other kids for his parents’ relationship. Later, school authorities, too, get involved as they don’t want a child whose parents are gay. The lack of laws regarding same-sex marriage, society’s reactions and what the two men do to give their son the happiness he deserves take centre stage in this movie. The film also stars Sinjai Plengpanich.
Watch Fathers here.
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
Starring Taiwanese actor Winston Chao as Wai-Tung Gao, Mey-Chin as Wei Wei and Mitchell Lichtenstein as Simon, this Ang Lee movie is a romantic comedy that is sure to set a laughter riot.
The film charts the life of Wai-Tung who is a Taiwanese immigrant in Manhatten, US, and his gay partner Simon. However, the former’s conservative family insists on him getting married. Thus, the two join their Chinese female friend Wei Wei, who is in dire need of a green card and hatch a plan.
But the plan fails when Wai-Tung’s parents pay him a surprise visit to America and want an elaborate wedding banquet. The film also features Ah-Lei Gua, Sihung Lung and Dio Birney.
Although the Oscar-nominated movie did not win at the Academy Awards, Lee bagged the Golden Berlin Bear at the 1993 Berlin International Film Festival, which was tied with Woman Sesame Oil Maker. In 2005, Lee went on to make another LGBTQ+ film, Brokeback Mountain, which won him the Academy Award for best director.
Badhaai Do (2022)
Director Harshvardhan Kulkarni gives a comic angle to one of the country’s taboo subjects in one of the best asian LGBTQ+ movies from India.
The film follows a closeted gay man, Inspector Shardul Thakur (Rajkummar Rao) and Sumi Singh (Bhumi Pednekar), who has not revealed her sexual orientation to her family either. She is a Physical Education teacher and is frustrated by her family’s concerns about her settling down. The two, in an attempt to seem ‘normal’ and put an end to their family pressures, agree to get married and live as flatmates.
However, trouble begins when Sumi’s new girlfriend Rimjhim Jhongkey (Chum Darang) moves in with them. This is followed by more issues that arise when Shardul’s mother (Sheeba Chaddha) comes to visit them, turning the lives of the three upside-down.
What makes the film a must-watch is that it doesn’t trivialise the problems faced by the people of the LGBTQ+ community in a attempt to provide comic relief. This Bollywood project also stars Seema Bhargava, Gulshan Devaiah, Apeksha Porwal, Mushtaq Khan and Loveleen Mishra.
Watch Badhaai Do here.
Saving Face (2004)
This Alice Wu romantic comedy revolves around Wilhelmina Pang or Wil (Michelle Krusiec), who is a successful young doctor in New York, US. Wil is a closeted lesbian before her mother, Hwei-Lan (Joan Chen), who eagerly wanted her daughter to get married. To find her eligible Chinese bachelors, Hwei-Lan takes her to social gatherings.
At one such congregation, Wil comes across the beautiful Vivian Shing (Lynn Chen). Vivian is a dancer who wants to pursue a modern form of art, much against her father’s desire for her to join the New York City Ballet. Interestingly, Mr Shing also happens to be Wil’s boss.
The two women get close but Wil is afraid of expressing her feelings for Vivian in public. A sequence of dramatic events ensues, and they drift apart.
The asian LGBTQ+ movie bagged the viewer’s choice award at the 2005 Golden Horse Film Festival.
Watch Saving Face here.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur.