East Palace West Palace / 東宮西宮

Takes “flirting to get out of a ticket” to a whole new level

MAYBE

Release date: November, 1996
Director: Zhang Yuan
Language: Mandarin

Who should watch this movie: People interested in Peking opera. Folks in the kink community. 

When should you watch this movie: When it’s relevant to your thesis research. When you’re tired of being queer baited by your favorite CW show. 

The sell: This movie is so gay it literally had to be smuggled out of China to be completed in France. Set in early 90s Beijing, where homosexuality is legal but heavily persecuted by local law enforcement, this story follows young gay writer A-Lan through his seduction of police officer Xiao-Shi. When Xiao-Shi finds and arrests A-Lan in the park – a known cruising site – he is filled with disgust and contempt. However, unable to let A-Lan go, Xiao-Shi begins an hours long interrogation which evolves into a prolonged exploration of A-Lan’s past. The interrogation is interspersed with flashbacks to A-Lan’s adolescence, as well as scenes from an unnamed Peking opera production – a story which mirrors A-Lan’s own. The atmosphere is tense with repressed desire and the line between sex and violence is blurred. East Palace West Palace was one of the first movies in China to openly discuss homosexuality. However, as much as this film is concerned with desire, it is more so preoccupied with the issue of power. The violence A-Lan experiences, both throughout his life and at the hands of Xiao-shi, is an analogy for the violence suffered by people at the hands of the state. It’s not an easy watch nor a truly satisfying one. This movie is dark and at times uncomfortable, but the visuals are stunning and the anti-establishment critique is thoughtfully executed. 

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