Welcome to the progressive arts events guide for this last weekend of November! To our friends who do celebrate it, happy Thanksgiving
This week’s edition features the rescreening of two iconic queer films. But first, as a reminder, the Bangkok Theatre Festival will officially close this weekend – you can see a brief writeup of some of the performances that we recommend here in last week’s edition. If you have any tips about events we should know about, please don’t hesitate to send a message to @kevr.pat!
FILM: Insects in the Backyard
Date: Sunday, 29 November at 17:00
Location: Lido Connect, Bangkok
Insects in the Backyard made news in 2010 when it was banned by the Culture Ministry for “immoral and pornographic content.” The ban was ultimately reversed after five years of persistent legal advocacy by the film’s director and their lead counsel. Their names? Recently disqualified Move Forward MP Tanwarin Sukkhapisit and iLaw attorney Yingcheep Ratchanont, respectively.
Tanwarin’s role as director and lead actor in this groundbreaking film launched her into prominence as one of Thailand’s leading queer voices. Before it was banned, Insects in the Backyard was screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival as well as the Torino GLBT Film Festival. The film stars the nonbinary Tanwarin as “Tanya,” a single parent to two teenage children. Already suffering from their mother’s death, the teens struggle to accept Tanya’s transition from male to female. Over the course of the film, the teens separately find themselves taking up prostitution, making Insects in the Backyard one of the few Thai films to openly tackle the taboo topic of underage prostitution. The film’s uncomfortable subject is complemented by a stark visual quality, the result of which is a sense of voyeurism, as if the film is daring viewers to look away in discomfort.
Tanwarin revealed that they decided to give the film its name because they believed transgender people in Thailand are often treated like insects in the backyard – an ugly presence only tolerated if it remains firmly outside the house. Their recent disqualification from the House of Representatives, then, almost seems too blatant a sign that nothing has changed in this country. But ten years after the film’s release, calls for gender equality and queer rights have only grown louder in Thailand, becoming a key component of the recent protest movement. No matter when the ultimate story of queer activism in Thailand is written, Insects in the Backyard has already done much to advance it.
For further details, see: https://www.ticketmelon.com/lidoconnect/insectinthebackyard
FILM: Happy Together
Date: Until early December
Location: House Samyan, Bangkok as well as certain SF and Major cinemas across the country.
As part of the World of Wong Kar-wai Retrospective Festival, cinemas across Thailand are showing five films by the internationally renowned Hong Kong filmmaker. All five titles have been remastered in 4k, giving film lovers a unique opportunity to enjoy them in exceptional quality on the screen. The films are being released a few weeks apart, giving each of them a brief moment in the sun before the next one comes out.
Happy Together is the film currently featured. Many film buffs, myself included, would argue that Happy Together is a landmark piece of East Asian queer history. Few films can boast both the sheer star power and the unconventional (for the 1990s) subject matter of Happy Together. The film stars two Hong Kong superstars at the peak of their careers, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (梁朝偉) and Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing (張國榮), as quarrelsome lovers who find themselves stranded in Argentina after they used up all their money. Yiu-fai (Leung) and Po-wing (Cheung)’s vicious cycle of violent argument and eventual reconciliation escalates, and the arrival of a handsome, young Taiwanese restaurant worker into Yiu-fai’s life does not make matters easier. This at times desperate, at times languorous, emotional storm plays out in a moody Buenos Aires beautifully captured by Wong Kar-wai.
Leslie Cheung’s masterful performance as the passionate, tempestuous Po-wing helped him secure his place as an eternal queer icon for East Asia. While much has changed for the better in the past twenty years, there are still very few out queer actors at the top of the film industry, and it is unfortunately all too rare to see queer roles being portrayed by queer actors. Seeing Leslie Cheung’s performance in Happy Together, then, remains an almost uniquely cathartic experience. There is sublime beauty in authenticity, and for sharing that beauty with us, Leslie Cheung deserves to be forever remembered by future generations of film lovers.
Compiled by Kevin Patumwat