Film studies: faking it

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2008, 12:00am

As names go, the First Hong Kong Fake Film Festival certainly takes some beating.

The title has nothing to do with pirated DVDs or DIY parodies of cinematic classics, however. Instead, the movies centre on gay characters and how they've been misrepresented by local filmmakers.

Each of the six movies being shown at the festival from March 11 to May 20 at the Rainbow Centre - a gathering point for the local gay community in Jordan - is authentic, and all made their film producers rich during the early 1990s.

Organised by the Women's Coalition of Hong Kong - a concern group dedicated to defending the rights of local sexual minorities - the festival seeks to dissect through discussion following movie screenings the homophobia inherent in Hong Kong films with gay characters at the forefront.

One of the central themes underlining these so-called fake films is how homosexuality is portrayed as an ailment that can be treated by having sexual encounters with gorgeous specimens of the opposite sex.

Two films in this Instant Straightening section of the festival - Gigolo and Whore II and He and She - were shown earlier this month.

If you missed those, then you can look forward to films categorised as Psycho Killer next month, and Doomed in May.

The idea for the festival arose from a discussion about the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (held every autumn) during one of the coalition's web-radio chat programmes two years ago.

During that programme members despaired at how some Hong Kong films simply exploit homosexuality as a marketing gimmick, and portray gay characters with a multitude of vices.

'We discovered a lot of young friends who called in during the programme have heard about the 'fake gays in films' we were talking about, but hadn't actually seen [such films],' says Wylie Yeo, the festival's organiser and coalition member.

Just as many ideas develop in the heat of the moment, the notion of fake gays was forgotten until earlier this year when coalition members began to research the trashy movie fare they had ribbed each other about in 2006.

They finally decided on six films, five of which were made during the early 1990s - a significant period for Hong Kong's gay community because it comes after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1991. 'The discussion about gay people was very heated back then and the issue remains improperly handled by the society,' says Yeo. 'That's why [homosexuality] is still being portrayed in smearing stereotypes. It's an amazing time - in the sense that the films were so amazingly inauthentic about gay people.'

The three themes being explored during the festival were central to how gay people were portrayed by local filmmakers, she says, including how gay people are just waiting to be made straight again, and the lesbians-as-twisted killing machines leitmotif, as seen in Naked Killer (1992), which has at its centre a gang of lesbian assassins whose murder method of choice is to shoot at men's genitals.

That film is being paired during the festival with what organisers felt to be its forerunner, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972), which sees a young woman being sold to a brothel and then learning to become a man killer under the auspices of her madame-cum-lover.

The third topic concerns how some films portray homosexuality as a precursor to death. Although hardly the out-and-out sexploitative trash that Naked Killer is, Pink Lady (1991) and My Wife's Lover (1991) are both driven by love triangles involving lesbian lovers and a third man, with one of them meeting their maker when relationship complications cannot be resolved.

Yeo agrees that the local film industry has steered clear of such crude characterisations of gay people in recent years.

The proof of this lies in films such as Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together, Shu Kei's A Queer Story and Yan Yan Mak's Butterfly, she says.

But the festival is necessary, she adds, because a generation brought up on Naked Killer or He and She might still hold archaic notions of homosexuality due to the films they've seen.