Capital Celluloid 2023 — Day 179: Thu June 29

East Palace, West Palace (Yuan, 1996): Barbican Cinema, 6.30pm

This film is part of the Barbican's Queer 90s season. Full details here.

One of the first films from China to explore gay experience, East Palace, West Palace is named after the gay slang in Beijing for the two public toilets either side of the Forbidden City, a popular cruising ground. The drama crackles with tension from the moment young gay writer A-Lan (Si Han) is arrested for cruising and put under the guard of Xiao Shi (Hu Jun). As A-Lan begins to tell his life story, which reflects China’s repressive attitude towards homosexuality, a quasi-masochistic bond develops between the two men.

Controversial upon its release, East Palace, West Palace features excellent performances and evokes the spirit of Jean Genet in its complex, provocative expression of gay sexuality.

Hayley Scanlon, who introduces the film, is a freelance film writer and editor of East Asian cinema website Windows on Worlds.

Here (and above) is an extract.

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