East Palace, West Palace 1996
Dong gong xi gong (original title)
1h 30min | Drama | 24 July 1998 (USA)
In China, homosexuality isn’t illegal, but homosexuals are routinely persecuted by police and arrested for “hooliganism”. The film focuses on a young gay writer A-Lan who, being attracted to a young policeman, manages to have himself interrogated for a whole night. His life-story which he tells during the interrogation reflects the general repression of the Chinese society. The policeman’s attitude shifts from the initial revulsion to fascination and, finally, to attraction.
‘East Palace, West Palace’ is a film that’s immeasurably diminished, indeed misunderstood, if it’s labeled a gay film.
Certainly, ‘East Palace, West Palace’ explores issues related to the gay experience. But that’s the first, and indeed facile, layer. There are more.
In its context, it poses a society in transition. It explores the constructs of power, of state machinery, and how institutions and ideas past their prime can dehumanize both parties, victims as well as perpetrators.
The film has moments of lyrical and almost escapist beauty, leaving no room for the claustrophobia that the plot construct could easily have engendered. Visually and verbally, poetry in a police station makes for near-surreal surprises.
As it builds, the film undergoes sudden shifts, rising much above comment on the politics of desire. Instead, it begins to underline the politics of politics itself. The rights being debated in that one night in the police station have much more to do with the right to freedom, the right to self-expression, the right to identity, than to do with the right to cruise in parks.
In a lot of issue-based cinema, marginalization affects both parties equally. Both the person wielding the stick and the person encountering the stick get trapped in their predefined roles. Not so in ‘East Palace, West Palace’. In the dialectic between the two protagonists, there can be no clear lines drawn between the powerful and the overpowered, the loving and the loved.
Intensely abstract, and, simultaneously, intensely personal. That’s how ‘East Palace, West Palace’ succeeds for me.
As a gay man who’d expected to see yet another gay film, I should’ve checked my labels in at the door.
Director: Yuan Zhang
Writers: Wang Xiaobo, Yuan Zhang
Stars: Si Han, Jun Hu, Jing Ye
Release Date: 24 July 1998 (USA)
Also Known As: East Palace, West Palace
Format : Matroska
Format version : Version 4
File size : 1.31 GiB
Duration : 1 h 34 min
Overall bit rate : 1 994 kb/s