Saturday, 8 September 2007

Bishonen (1998)

English title: Bishonen. Japanese kanji 美少年 meaning 'Beautiful Youth (boy)'. The closest English term is 'Pretty Boy'.
Chinese title: Beautiful Young Men in Love.

Bishonen (1998)This is the 2nd of Yonfan's LGBT film. This movie is brought to you by the letter 'G'.

The Japanese term used in the English title comes from the recent Japanese pop culture (even though the concept of bishonen rooted in medieval China, which in turns came from ancient India (along with Zen Buddhism)). The ‘boy’ in ‘pretty boy’ or bishonen are applied loosely as none of the characters in this movie are qualified as boys. The English usage of 'bishonen' applies to all pretty young men.

The Chinese title too is in Japanese (but readable by Chinese and understood it’s Japanese).

A Chinese girl told me that she prefers Korean TV dramas over Chinese ones because Korean actors are better looking. I was curious of her aesthetics, after some probings, it turns out it’s because of the bishonen (f)actors in Korean cinema (especially KTV). Ah so desu ne...

Apparently, this bishonen phenomenon haven’t taken hold in the Chinese cinema (as it has in Japanese and Korean cinemas, and originated in Japanese anime/manga). I guess wushu actors don't look good if they look too pretty, if you know wht I mean.

I haven’t watched many gay films to comment on the amount of homoeroticism in this film in any authoritative way. I could tell you - in an amateur way - that there’re fair amount of french-kissing (suggestive, not close up), skin rubbings (topless, no full nudity), and a steamy soapy shower scene between 2 male actors. There're also a number of scenes that could quite easily misconstrue as Calvin Klein underwear commercials (not that it's ever zoomed close enough to see the labels. It could be another brand).

The actors look somewhat uncomfy committing those acts - a litmus test that at least 1 actor at any given intimate scene is/are not queer folk(s). None of those scenes show any penis to spare the (few) straight male audience from waking up in a nightmare in cold sweat, and rushing to see a shrink (and turns out to be a very expensive viewing). Jokes aside, if Yonfan decided to pushing the boundary of sexual explicitness, he would end up in the HK Cat3 territory. I don't think he wants to go there. It would give this movie an automatic downgrade in critical success (and probably an upgrade in ticket sales. Maybe not). Let's just say the sexual explicitness has curtailed relative to his previous and 1st LGBT film, which has no Cat3 classification in Singapore.

There’re 2 actresses played main roles in this film. Ok, 1.5 actresses as Brigitte Lin played the narrator of the story and is never seen. She’s well known as an actress who played in numerous roles with gender ambiguity (because of her androgynous beauty). Another is Shu Qi, who’s well known for appearing in many films that deal with sexual explicit subject. She plays a lesbian here. No hanky panky from her at all.

Gender bending exist in Chinese culture in all kinda subtle ways in daily life from cross-gender performers in Chinese operas where male play female roles and vice versa, to eunuchs who are often portrayed as effeminate half men. But what I find the subtlest expression of gender ambiguity is the gender pronouns like 'he'(他), and 'she'(她) are pronounced the same (although written differently. This is true in both Mandarin and Cantonese, which is being spoken in the film. I suspect this applies to all Chinese dialects. I could be wrong).

So in many movies dialogues such as the conversation between Jet and Sam's mother becomes quite interesting. Jet told her that he's starting to date 'him' (meaning her son), and she assumes Jet says 'her' (a girl) because of her oblivion of Jet and her son's homosexuality. Such misunderstanding isn't possible in English unless one is avoiding the use of gender specific pronouns (I guess the same result could be achieved in English by referring to somebody with their unisex names like 'Joe', 'Chris', etc. But the English unisex names implies gender equality, not fluidity/ambiguity). Only the audience knows that misunderstanding due to gender ambiguity/fluidity in the language. Since the video I watched has only Chinese subtitles, I'm curious to find out how the subtitle translators deal with these gender ambiguity, in fact, I had given it some thought as how this should be translated, and I see no way how they could go around this without changing the intention and nuances of the conversation in a significant way. This is 1 good example of how something is lost in translation due to cultural differences.

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