East Palace, West Palace
Directed by Zhang Yuan. Starring Hu Jun, Si Han. (NR, 90 min.)
Not reviewed at press time. Gay men cruising in a public park -- the sight would be commonplace were it not in Beijing. This film was shot clandestinely and smuggled out of China, where it is forbidden to be shown. It is a dramatic film, not a documentary, by the independent filmmaker, Zhang Yuan, whose films regularly give voice to marginalized characters. “East palace” and “west palace” are the nicknames for the public toilets on either side of the Forbidden City, where police swoop down on the gay men cruising for sex. During a routine roundup, A-Lan, a writer, finds himself drawn to the men in uniforms. The film embarks on a two-man study in sadomasochistic fantasies and the perversion of power -- the powerless man desiring the love of his tormentor. Beyond this film's taboo subject matter of homosexuality, it is also illegal to make a film in China outside the government-sanctioned movie studios. That Zhang managed to complete this film and have it released and admired throughout the world is a resounding blow against the repressiveness of the Chinese regime and a rallying point for the worldwide forces of self-expression.