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Film Review: Taipeilove – Queer East Docs4Pride

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

 Director: Lucie Liu

Never take hard-won rights and privileges for granted for they can be dismantled in the blink of an eye. Lucie Liu’s insightful documentary Taipeilove, showing as part of Docs4Pride in the Queer East Film Festival, demonstrates that for the LGBTQ+ community in Taiwan the struggle for recognition and equality in 2016-2019 proved tumultuous for those hoping for a brighter, more inclusive future.

This personal-political film examines the experience of three people – Sarah Su whose first experiences of same-sex feelings was a crush on a teacher at school and then during her nursing training, pilot Kevin Lee who had a similar experience in another single sex environment, military service, and his boyfriend of 13 years David Luo a fitness instructor – but the film has one eye on the wider impact of gay rights legislation and attitudes in recent years.

In the early part of this 70-minute documentary, Liu cuts together interviews with our three protagonists asking them about their lifestyle and poor experience of sex education. Sarah met her partner on a dating app while later introducing herself unexpectedly to her girlfriend’s mother. David and Kevin met in the gym originally but connected online before becoming a couple. It is a section that emphasises the ordinariness of these stories, no different to thousands of couples who meet the same way, regardless of their sexuality.

Initially Liu is interested in the discordant notes within Taiwanese society, particularly focusing on the familial connections as the trio describe coming-out to loved ones or being bullied at school, something which David in particular struggles to be open about, recalling the rejection he has experienced and even a continuing need to hide his true self from strangers. But Liu places these stories against a backdrop of growing support, openness and acceptance in Taiwan in which the disapproval of elders sits alongside a message that all gender and race equality rights have been won, so same-sex partnerships are next.

Quite far into Taipeilove, when Liu has invested the audience in her subjects, the narrative neatly turns to the unfolding political events of these years. In 2016 at a rally on the marriage amendment, a speaker warns there will be more fights to come; it is a fleeting moment but within two years his words seem prophetic as the conservative opposition organise and fight back and Liu’s camera follows the resulting disappointments and frustrations for Kevin, David and Sarah.

There are interesting themes in her film that will resonate with a UK audience whose own experience of political culture clashes polarised by age, class and level of urbanisation will resonate. Interjections from a political lawyer, the manager of a telephone counselling service and a gay rights activist add valuable legal and ethical perspectives that contextualise both the individual experiences and the legislative process, helping the audience to understand the central dichotomy of a tolerant and accepting society voting to take rights away.

There are throw-away comments about deeper struggles for the Trans community and HIV sufferers that could be better explored, the nuances and variation across the LGBTQ+ community largely conceived in Taipeilove as a blanket whole. Yet, Liu’s film ends on a brighter note and, although it feels like a resolution, in view of what has gone before, it seems like a warning – rights may be hard won but they are easily lost.

 Available here until 24 July 2020

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