By Jeff Walsh
"Serbis" is not a gay movie. We should get that out of the way up front. This movie from the Philippines mainly concerns a family struggling to make ends meet in a run-down movie theater.
The Pineda family have court cases, pregnancies, and other family issues going on. All of the struggles they are going through doesn't leave them much time to deal with the fact that their "adult only" movie theater isn't attended for the movies they show, but is actually a meeting place for male prostitutes (serbis) and their gay clients.
I thought the movie was well done, but a bunch of interlaced stories stretched across 85 minutes doesn't leave much time to get too invested in any one story. I'd almost have preferred one family story and more investment, but as with any movie from another country, it's always interesting just seeing how people live their daily lives elsewhere.
By Jeff Walsh
"Schoolboy Crush" is a campy, over-the-top melodrama that doesn't aim for realism but, once you get past that, it's always a fun ride.
The first scene in the movie is a sex scene between a young man and a younger male prostitute. We learn very quickly that the man who hired the boy is a high school teacher at a very exclusive all-boys academy in Japan. And there's a new student arriving in the middle of the semester. You guessed it, the teen prostitute.
The two spar throughout the movie, with the boy wanting the teacher to hire him again, or does he actually have feelings for him? The boy's nerdy roommate wants to be part of his life, but is romantically interested, too? Even other boys at school seem to want him sexually… I guess what you hear about everyone being gay at these private schools is true. Even the bully seems equally attracted to and repulsed by the new boy.
By Jeff Walsh
Bangkok Love Story is a fun, highly stylized gay movie from Thailand that certainly swings for the fences. Everything about it plays for maximum effect. It's sort of a Brokeback Mountain set in the underbelly of Bangkok.
Cloud is an assassin hired to kill Stone, a police informant, but he doesn't pull the trigger. In a gunfight, the two escape handcuffed together and Stone nurses Cloud back together and falls in love with him. (The gay angle isn't really evident before that happens, but if there wasn't a gay angle I wouldn't be writing this, so you know it's coming anyway). Their relationship takes a turn when Stone gives Cloud a bath on a rooftop in downtown Bangkok, which turns into quite a charged, erotic scene on the rooftop.
But nothing about Bangkok Love Story is subtle. Cloud's mother has AIDS, and his younger brother Fog is HIV+, both from his stepfather. Cloud is married, but cannot deny his love for Cloud, who freaks out after their sexual encounter and cuts off contact.
By Jeff Walsh
Snehal Desai is 28 years old, and only finished his master's degree in directing from Yale University three months ago, but he's already made his way to San Francisco with his one-man show.
"Finding Ways to Prove You're NOT an Al Qaeda Terrorist When You're Brown (and other stories of the gIndian) is Desai's one-man show exploring his life as a gay Indian through monologues that explore his sexual, spiritual, pharmaceutical, and cultural dimensions. From ex-boyfriends who both invent and then eroticize his curry-scented skin to family members who keep pushing him toward arranged marriages, the show moves quickly through its various terrains.
Some of the show's best moments take place when Desai's character (we'll get into the whole non-autobiographical one-man show aspect in the interview) visits India and finds the country's openness about same-sex intimacy refreshing, even if it isn't completely indicative of its acceptance of homosexuality. He also explores the pain of queer children forced to confirm to that society's will, yet at the same time finds poetry and beauty in a kite-flying competition that encapsulates the best qualities of the human spirit, if we could all looking at one another the same way permanently.
I saw the show tonight, but spoke with Desai yesterday, catching up with him in middle of tech rehearsal for his West coast premiere. Here's what we said:
By Jeff Walsh
Whoa. I just finished watching what is considered the first “true gay film in Korean cinema,” and if this is how they mark their entrance to world cinema, they are more than welcome to make as many gay movies as they want.
The movie, “No Regret,” apparently shocked Korean audiences when it was first released, and the movie comes out in New York and Los Angeles at the end of July, and in San Francisco at the end of August (check website to see when more cities are added).
Similar to the gay Japanese movie “Boys Love” that I recently reviewed, this is a movie that doesn’t have that cultural take on an old story feel to it. It is a modern, worthwhile movie that depicts the characters’ lives in Seoul, but the emphasis is on story above all else.
Sumin leaves the orphanage where he grew up and goes to Seoul, where to help pay for his studies and cost of living he has to do factory work as well as a second job as a driver. One night, he has to drive Jaemin home. Jaemin is slightly older and rich, and also interested in more than a ride home.
By Jeff Walsh
"Boys Love" is a Japanese movie that doesn't need much translation. A lot of foreign movies require you to make assumptions about what life is like there in addition to the story that's actually being told, but Boys Love is a very modern film set in Japan, but with a universal, relatable story.
Mamiya is a young shy editor at a magazine whose first assignment as a writer is to interview teen model, Noel. Over the course of the interview, Noel makes a sexual play for Mamiya. Again, what could have turned into an angsty quest to determine his sexuality is avoided, and we only know Mamiya is drawn to Noel. Sexuality is a huge element to the film, but a largely unspoken one.
Noel (Takumi Saitoh) handles his role well, since it seems like it would be easy to find fault in the role of someone in the spotlight that exudes charisma. It would be easy not to buy into the conceit that this person would not draw such attention in real life (then again, I still think that about Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, I don't get what the fuss is about). Whereas Mamiya (Yoshikazu Kotani) seems like it would be the easier role, playing the shy, non-famous journalist.
I spent half of my gorgeous Sunday tutoring my kids in East LA and the other half discovering music artists. Don't tell me I'm lame. Well, here are a few of my new faves (some you probably already know):
Gran Bel Fisher
I was wondering if anyone has encountered racism in the LGBT community personally and how the feel about it and what they have done to handle this. This was brought up at a Citywide GSA meeting put together but an LGBT organization here in Philadelphia. Thanks in advance for your time.
By Jeff Walsh
Eternal Summer is a Taiwanese film that explores the friendship of straight-laced Jonathan and the more rebellious Shane. They are first paired off by a teacher in grade school, with the hope that Jonathan will serve as a good influence. Ten years later, that pairing is still in effect as the two near the end of their high school years.
Everything changes when Carrie, a new girl in school, appears and goes after Jonathan. He doesn't return her romantic feelings, and we start to realize we are in what is very familiar territory on this site: the straight crush. Rebuffed, Carrie ends up going after Shane instead, which only intensifies Jonathan's longing and clarifies Shane's feelings for Jonathan. Are they shared? Will it work out? Can't say.
What I can say is that the movie really takes time to breathe and build big drama out of small moments. Motorcycle rides with Jonathan holding onto Shane don't advance the plot all that much, but we all have some idea how much they mean to Jonathan.
By Jeff Walsh
My first exposure to Noel Alumit was seeing him onstage, performing his one man show "The Rice Room: Scenes From A Bar" that explored the lives of gay Asian men. His second show "Master of the (miss) Universe" explored his gay identity as well as the world of beauty pageants. In between those two shows, Alumit became an accomplished novelist.
His first novel, "Letters to Montgomery Clift," has young Filipino protagonist Bong Bong Luwad searching for his mother. As he goes through hardship, Luwad begins to interact with dead movie star Montgomery Clift as a coping mechanism, writing him letters, seeing him appear during periods of crisis, and even making love to him. The character expresses his innermost thoughts to Clift, but not to the people in his real life. Until Luwad finds out what happens to his parents, who disappeared during the Marcos regime after sending him to America, he seems unable to move forward with his life.
His second novel, "Talking to the Moon," shows the effect of a hate crime on a Filipino family in Los Angeles. The book is based on an actual incident where a Filipino postman was killed, although Alumit's book uses the notion of a hate crime as a jumping-off point to explore how tragedy affects a family. The rotating narrative shows the courtship of Jory and Belen Lalaban, as well as the relationship of their son Emerson to his Taiwanese boyfriend, Michael. The story explores how the family moved from the Philippines because they were "cursed," and examines the fragile tendrils that keep people connected to one another.
Alumit also maintains a blog, The Last Noel, which tracks his eye through the literary world, his writing process, and his life.
I recently spoke with Alumit about his career to date, his exploration of the gay Filipino experience through his performance and writing, and what inspires him as an artist. Here's what we said:
By Jeff Walsh
Cut Sleeve Boys, which bills itself as the first gay British Chinese movie, is about two friends forced to look at their own lives as they grow older in the gay community after attending the funeral of a friend. Their friend had remained in the closet for his entire life, and his funeral doesn't represent the life of the friend they knew.
Mel is still hitting the clubs, but isn't as ready to settle down as his boyfriend Todd. He seems to fear the confinement of a relationship, but the alternative is to dwell in a world where who's hot changes as much as the fashionable clothes he wears.
Ash is very camp, but clear about his intentions. He wants a husband. After running into an old friend who is now a transgender with a hot boyfriend, he decides to turn to his old drag outfits and find a tranny chaser for himself.
The movie, which opens in San Francisco and Berkeley this Friday (and comes out on DVD on November 13), asks interesting questions, but the motivations behind most if not all of the characters is a bit murky.
By Jeff Walsh
"Innocent" is a movie about a 17-year-old character named Eric who is surprised to learn early in the film that his family's vacation in Canada from their homeland of Hong Kong is permanent. They intend to stay.
Eric is dealing with his homosexuality, but is not the shy waif innocent we're used to seeing in movies, despite the film's title. He stars as his cousin's ass in the shower, sleeps with a middle-aged man who sees him buying a gay porn magazine, goes right in for the kiss with his schoolmate, and seems like there might be a spark with a worker hired at the family's restaurant. He may be awkwardly dealing with his sexuality, but he seems pretty clear about it.
The movie, by Simon Chung, seems to lack a central narrative that pulls you through the experience as a viewer. Eric has these dealing with his sexuality. His mother is trying to start a restaurant with the help of someone who seems romantically interested in her. The father is getting some extramarital action on his neighborhood jogs, and ends up returning to Hong Kong in the middle of the movie.