What you need to know
GagaOOLala, a Taiwan-based LGBT-focused streaming service, has launched internationally. Here are three highlights from its lineup of films.
By Wei Sun
Taiwan’s LGBT-focused streaming platform, GagaOOLala, subsidized by the Ministry of Culture, launched internationally on May 15. GagaOOLala is the first global online streaming platform from Taiwan, now available for US$6.99 a month.
The founder of the service, Portico Media, is also an organizer for the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival.
GagaOOLala takes pride in being the first international platform to offer such a high volume of LGBT-centric titles from Asia, with both English and Chinese subtitles. GagaOOLala features Tsai Ming-liang’s legendary Taipei Trilogy along with a selection numbering in the hundreds.
Here are a few of our recommendations in the GagaOOLala lineup.
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
In 1991, Ang Lee made his feature debut with Pushing Hands, a comedy-drama film that was nominated for nine awards at the Golden Horse. His high-profile debut was followed by The Wedding Banquet, a masterpiece that was nominated for both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. Lee rose to fame in Hollywood afterward.
The Wedding Banquet follows the lives of Gao Wai-tung and his same-sex partner Simon in New York. As Gao’s parents in Taiwan keep pressuring him to get married and have a child, Gao marries one of his tenants, Wei-wei. Just when Gao’s parents visit the United States for the wedding banquet, the truth of Gao’s sexual orientation and his complicated relationships are slowly brought to the fore.
In the film, Lee takes a Chinese perspective on the tension between traditional values and gay romance. He questions the classical Chinese ideas on filial piety, expressed in the line from Mencius: “There are three ways to be unfilial; having no sons is the worst.” Because gay relationships virtually cannot fulfill filial obligations as they are traditionally defined, by “passing on the family bloodline,” the film shows how Gao and Simon go to extreme lengths to accommodate their parents.
It’s a commentary with resonance beyond the issues specific to gay life. Lee shows how marriage itself, particularly in East Asian cultures, can be really about one’s parents.
Lee gives himself a cameo at the wedding banquet, commenting, “You're witnessing the results of 5,000 years of sexual repression.” The line is delivered not just for the characters in the film, but directly to the audience. Above the tables at the wedding banquet there’s a raucous, joyful celebration. Beneath, an intricate, entangled love triangle.
Small Talk (2016)
Directed by Huang Hui-chen, Small Talk won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival. Small Talk is not just any documentary, it features a high-profile crew including Hou Hsiao-hsien as the producer and Lim Giong as the composer.
At the time of the release, the Taiwanese audience was extremely curious about what kind of magic Huang had to lure the famous filmmakers to assist in her production. Small Talk is a film in which Huang condensed nearly 20 years of her life into an 89-minute journey, both questioning and healing herself and her mother.
The film opens with a static frame of Huang’s mother. Huang chats with her mom about all kinds of topics ranging from marriage and apartment rental to potential divorces. Through a simple conversation, we can hear a mother’s worry for her daughter as well as her personality and values.
Huang then raises two more questions for her mom: Why did you get married and have kids even though you’re a lesbian? Why is our relationship so distant although we’ve only had each other since I was a child?
Small Talk is, in a sense, a letter of reconciliation for Huang’s mother. It’s an extremely intimate documentary, but its sincerity and honesty can resonate with anyone.
The Shepherds (2018)
On May 24, 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage. Although the year was celebrated as a victory for same-sex couples, there are still battles to fight in the struggle against discrimination.
Many Christian churches still march under the banner of same-sex marriage opposition, condemning LGBT people as sinners in the name of God. The Shepherds is a documentary that explores the complicated relationship and clashes between Christianity and the LGBT community.
The Shepherds was nominated for Best Documentary at the Taipei Film Festival in 2018. The film focuses on a pro-LGBT church founded in 1996 by Silas Wong, who seeks to provide a spiritual home for gay Christians, but in the process becomes outcast by the mainstream Christian churches.
The Shepherds brings to the screen the opposition between faith and humanity. When we follow the emotional journey of the characters, we also hear anti-LGBT Christians yelling, “If being gay is human nature, do we have to legalize killing for those who have an inherent tendency to commit murders?”
Comments like this are only the tip of an iceberg. As we witness the difficulties faced by the “shepherds,” we’re also getting closer to how they feel.
What’s truly valuable about The Shepherds is that it throws questions at God, protests against the anti-LGBT Christians, while showing different sides of humanity. Although The Shepherds centers on Christianity and the LGBT community, at its core, it boldly captures the many facets of Taiwanese society.
TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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