Chinese Visual Festival – Queer China, Queer Cinema

surrounded by marks

The idea of queer chinese cinema may seem strange to a Western audience, used to think of China’s real culture as a direct expression of their government politics, but if there’s something we can learn from this selection of shorts is that queerness does exist in China, but must be taken on a less restrictive sense than within our society. Maybe the dominant trend on the shorts was that queerness was not the driving force of the narrative (or, in the case of the experimental films, of the piece), but presented as a matter of fact side note. Does this mean China is not comfortable with alternative sexualities, or does it mean it is, in fact, so comfortable, that makes no point of underlying it? As an outsider, it’s hard to decide. Still, each film selected raised questions that, though not necessarily related to queerness, are very humanist in essence. How can dreams define us? What’s the impact of technology on our social space? Is it obscene to say “vagina”? And what is love?

Outside and Inside of a Well

Outside and Inside Well (2013, Yu Ziyang) is not so much an experimental film as it is surrealistic. Playing with the ideas of space and transformation, Ziyang stresses colour schemes and character exaggerations, on an apparent nightmarish exploration of a sadomasochistic relation between three boys and the dreams of one of them for the heterosexual mirage.

More traditionally experimental, Surrounded by Marks (2014, Carl Colorful) explores the relation between human and technology. People (easy copies of each other) speak through radio static. Mating dances in the loneliness of one’s bedroom and the desire for a body that isn’t there are the prevalent images in between the film’s dense intellectual and associative montage.


The VaChina Monologues (2013, Fan Popo) is perhaps the most curious film of the four. A documentary about the staging of The Vagina Monologues in several Chinese Universities in 2003.  Its relevance reached a peak recently as some members of feminist groups in China were arrested earlier this year. In a culture where saying vagina in public is considered offensive and obscene, young women dare, through Ensler’s characters, to express their own sexuality, and work towards a better awareness of what it means to be a female in an extremely conservative society.

Last but not least, Wandering Mind (2014, Hoby Zhang) is a fiction piece that feels like an excerpt of a longer film. It focuses on a cafe encounter between a recent widow and the husband’s mistress. The next half hour dwells on love, lies, understanding and intimacy. The queer theme is definitely weaker in this short – the wife does maintain a girlfriend on the side, with the husband’s knowledge – but is still a great reflection on the fleeting nature of romantic relationships and love triangles.

The Chinese Visual Festival is in London until 22nd May. For more information visit

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.