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Queer East: 5 Must-Watch Films

Queer East returns for its fifth year with a programme of spectacular films. Established in 2020, the festival was born out of desire to create an artistic space for bold, unconventional and forward-thinking queer narratives originating from East and Southeast Asia and its diasporic communities. Over the past four years, 350 films have been screened in 42 venues across 23 cities in the UK, Europe and beyond. Today, we are thrilled to offer a peek into this year’s programme with these five films, from an exhilarating, contemporary coming-of-age story to an archival treasure from 1974.

The Last Year of Darkness | Benjamin Mullinkosson

As the city of Chengdu changes, the future of Funky Town, a beloved queer-friendly techno club, is unclear. For a vibrant group of DJs, drag performers, artists, lovers, ravers and skaters, the club is a sanctuary for underground partying and allows them to thrive after the sun sets. It’s the one place that accepts them for who they are. During the day, the regulars of Funky Town battle depression, question their sexuality and struggle to make a living. But with construction cranes looming as a metro station encroaches, the partygoers are forced to face what brought them to the club in the first place – and make the most of their remaining time there. A love letter to the Chengdu underground scene, The Last Year of Darkness is a coming-of-age documentary that celebrates the ephemerality of youth.

A Song Sung Blue | Geng Zihan

We fly to Harbin, north-east China. Here we meet 15-year-old Xian, who is forced to live with her father after her mother goes abroad for work. He is a free-spirited photographer, whom she has barely seen since her parents’ divorce. He’s in a relationship with his assistant, who has an 18-year-old Chinese-Korean daughter called Mingmei. A restless summer ensues, as the lonely, shy Xian becomes intoxicated with the extroverted, worldly Mingmei. A Song Sung Blue is an exhilarating coming-of-age story with vivid cinematography and exceptional performances from young actors Kay Huang and Jing Liang, who perfectly capture the complexities of the girls’ friendship and attraction. A testament to the innocence and impulses of youth, Geng Zihan’s debut feature signals the arrival of a powerful voice in queer cinema.

Sara | Ismail Basbeth

Sara, a trans woman in her mid-thirties, is made to return to her village in rural Indonesia to attend her father’s funeral. Arriving back home, she discovers that her mother has been severely traumatised by the bereavement: not only does she fail to accept her husband’s death, she also has no memory of Sara and treats her like a complete stranger. Seeking to help her mother, Sara resolves to play-act as her late father, the person she despises most and the reason she ran away many years ago. Centred on a stunning performance from Asha Smara Darra, this affecting family drama is about a woman desperate to break free from the past, who must nonetheless confront its enduring and wounding power.

Bye Bye Love | Isao Fujisawa

Until the 2018 discovery of a film negative in a warehouse, Bye Bye Love was long considered lost: a new print gives audiences a rare chance to revisit this radical work from 1974. Following two young people, Utamaro and Giko, on a doomed summer road trip through Japan, Isao Fujisawa’s poetic, surreal work reflects on the dissipating promise of 1960s counterculture and free love. The film is stylistically influenced by the French New Wave and American New Cinema, notably Jean-Luc Godard and Arthur Penn. Yet the main character’s name – Utamaro – reconsiders Japanese artistic traditions, especially male perspectives on feminine beauty. Here, romantic love transcends gender, sexuality and even the body; a queer challenge to conventions that adds to the political charge of this rediscovered classic.

Abang Adik | Jin Ong

Brothers Abang and Adik are undocumented orphans who live in Malaysia without ID cards. Stranded in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, they cannot enjoy the basic rights of ordinary citizens. Abang, the older brother, is deaf-mute and works hard to achieve stability, whereas Adik is unwilling to surrender to his fate and turns to criminality, looking to make money fast. But the siblings’ divergent perspectives soon evolve into a nightmarish tragedy. Wu Kang-ren and Jack Tan received critical acclaim for their heartbreaking performances as the brothers destined to share an intense bond, with Wu winning Best Actor at the 2023 Golden Horse Awards. While offering an edgy insight into Malaysian street life, Abang Adik is at heart a drama about feelings spoken, and unspoken, as the characters hurtle towards their fate.

Venues Across London | 17-28 April | Learn More