Director: Tung-Yen Chou
Although this documentary about online dating is receiving its UK premiere this month, Looking For? was released in 2017 with much of it filmed earlier on in the decade. Even in 2017, the film would have seemed dated as Grindr has been part of gay life since 2009, and the conversations around it have played out many times before.
The first men that Tung-Yen Chou interviews proclaim that the app, and apps like it, have revolutionised gay life, making it easier for gay men to connect with each other. One older gay man remembers the old days of saunas and answering ads in newspapers with nostalgia, and it’s a shame that we hear so little of the lost art of cruising, when men picked up each other on the street after a few well-turned glances.
Instead, we hear from young men, mainly from East Asia, though there are contributions from men in the US and one man from the UK, who chat away about how they choose photographs for their profiles to give them the most impact. Other couples discuss how they met each other on Grindr and how they now use it for threesomes.
Some men use it purely for sex, while other men use it as a way to make friends. One man says that he asks his partner to leave as soon as the sex is done, while another man says that he likes to have a conversation after sex; indeed, that’s his favourite part. Sinisterly, one man confesses that when his ‘date’ is taking a post-coital shower, he searches through his date’s pockets to find his ID and discover his real name, which he then writes up in his diary.
But apart from the odd remark, Tung-Yen Chou’s interviewees say little which is surprising or insightful, and are not helped by the questions, sometimes so general, that it’s impossible for them to answer. The director also does not address geography and by interviewing men from East Asia and the West without mentioning their different locations, the film suggests that gay life is the same the world over.
In 1980, American author Edmund White published States of Desire, a travel book in which he interviewed gay men across the United States on their lives and how they met other men for sex, but that book had an urgency coming so quickly after the success of Gay Liberation in the 1970s. White’s book told stories that had never been told before. The stories in Looking For? are too familiar, especially as the men make few references to the country they live in.
Yen also tries to implant his own story into his film, but for this approach to really work, this story of a failed relationship should be clearer. We see footage of him hunched over his phone on London’s underground presumably looking for company on Grindr, but the rest of his personal narrative is obscure. As he reports at the start of his documentary when one guy messaged him ‘Looking for?’ he messaged back saying that he hadn’t lost anything. But it seems that he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.