Queer cinema in Taiwan has flourished over the last two decades, particularly in the years since the country began gaining international recognition as a leader of LGBTQIA+ rights in Asia. In the two years leading up to the 2019 passing of Asia’s first same-sex marriage law, over 20 Taiwanese queer movies were created, with Netflix-binge-worthy titles like Dear Ex rising to international acclaim and sweeping the Golden Horses, the local Oscars.
With visibility has increased, filmmakers found success branching out from forbidden love and coming out tropes to tell a much wider range of LGBTQIA+ stories, from adoption to transgender issues, to the experiences of indigenous queer people on the island. It would be still to claim that we’ve compiled a list of the best Taiwanese queer movies. But in our unbiased opinion, this spotlight section is a great place to start. Check them out.
A gritty BL drama, Light’s titular character was forced into prostitution by his step-father after his mother is murdered. But when Shuo, an undercover police officer, rescues him from an abusive trick, both their lives are changed. Playing out across the underbelly of Keelung (not the first time the city’s grittier side has starred in a production), the film follows the development of their unlikely romantic relationship, all while Light struggles to overcome his family trauma.
Your Name Engraved Herein (2020)
As significant for cinema as it was moving for cinema-goers, Your Name Engraved Herein was Taiwan’s successful movie of 2020 and the most successful local queer movie of all time. The film follows the relationship between soft-spoken A-han and the free-spirited Birdy, who fall in love while studying at a Catholic High School in the 1980s. Set against the uncertainty of Taiwan’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, this landmark film deals with important contemporary issues such as internalized homophobia and family rejection, making not only a powerful drama but also a highly significant retrospective on Taiwan’s less inclusive past.
Tale of the Lost Boys (2017)
Deadbeat Alex runs away to Taiwan, leaving personal problems and a pregnant girlfriend in the Philippines, and meets Jerry, an Atayal medical student who fears his parents will reject him because he was gay. A touching film that doesn’t go the way of typical queer storylines, Lost Boys follows the pair on a journey to Jerry’s hometown to come out to his parents. In addition to featuring some gorgeous shots of southern Yilan County, the film stands out for its sensitive handling of homosexuality in indigenous communities, an underrepresented subject in Taiwanese queer movies. Meanwhile, it discusses the broader issues of identity faced by both its leads: Jerry as the Taipei-based son of a tribal leader and Alex as a future father struggling with abandonment.
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
Thirteen years before he came out with Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee delighted queer audiences with this pioneering romantic comedy. The Wedding Banquet is about a Wai-tung, a closeted Taiwanese man living in Manhattan with his boyfriend, whose plan to appease his traditionally-minded parents with a green card marriage backfires when they announce they will be visiting the states to throw him an extravagant wedding. The movie was part of trilogy by Ang on the relationship between Confucianism and contemporary Taiwanese culture. While The Wedding Banquet premiered at a time when queer visibility was scarce in cinema, it was enormously well received. It was nominated for an Oscar and picked up best film awards at the Seattle and Berlin film festivals.
Small Talk (2016)
Heartbreakingly frank, director Huang Hui-chen exposes the scars of a lifetime of shame and homophobia in this deeply personal documentary about her and her lesbian mother, A-nu, who is also a Taoist priestess. Despite living in the same house, she and A-nu barely exchange a word as her mother silently lives on with the trauma of an abusive father, abusive husband, and a lifetime of self-denial. Where Your Name Engraved Herein dramatizes taboo homosexuality into a story of love against the odds, Small Talk sticks unflinchingly to its bitter truth. There is no visualization, nothing to distract or entertain the audience. Only the frank reality of a conversation between a shamed mother and her neglected daughter. For this incredibly meaningful portrayal, Small Talk picked up the Teddy Award at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, which celebrates excellence in queer cinema.
Alifu the Prince/ss (2017)
Alifu is a young indigenous transgender woman working as a hairdresser and makeup artist in Taipei. But when her father, a tribal chief, announces his retirement, she is caught between her high-born Paiwan roots and the fact that she hasn’t come out to her family. Told between queer Taipei and rural Taitung, this moving personal story follows Alifu’s reckoning with her identities. It also deals with wider problems faced by Taiwan’s transgender community and issues faced by the indigenous young people who move to Taiwan’s big cities. Alifu the Prince/ss picked up Best New Talent at the Taipei Film Festival as well as a Golden Horse Horse Award.
Spider Lilies (2007)
A story of love and obsession, Spider Lilies is the story of Jade, a webcam girl, who falls hard for her childhood crush Takeko after she runs into her at her tattoo parlor. As the two are drawn closer together, the movie draws viewers deeper into Takeko’s difficult past. All the while, Jade is pursued by an undercover police officer whose desire toward her complicates his desire to track her down. Spider Lilies was the winner of the 2007 Teddy Award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Dear Tennant (2020)
For the past five years, Jian-yi has taken care of the son (You-you) and mother (Xiu-yu) of his late boyfriend. He’s very close with the pair. But when Xiu-yu passes away under mysterious circumstances, and her other son returns from abroad, Jian-yi becomes the object of his suspicion. A tense family melodrama, Dear Tennant dives into issues faced by queer families as well as homophobia and gender roles in traditional Taiwanese families. The film received no fewer than six Golden Horse nominations, picked up Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Soundtrack.