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East Palace, West Palace
East Palace West Palace
Actors: Si Han, Jun Hu, Jing Ye, Wei Zhao
Director: Yuan Zhang
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
UR     2004     1hr 30min

EAST PALACE, WEST PALACE, the very first gay film to be made in China, explores the erotic obsessions between a policeman and his captive. During an interrogation, a handsome policeman questions a young writer, thrusting t...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Si Han, Jun Hu, Jing Ye, Wei Zhao
Director: Yuan Zhang
Creators: Jian Zhang, Yuan Zhang, Vincent LÚvy, Christophe Jung, Christophe MÚnager, Willy Tsao, Wang Xiaobo
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Studio: Strand Releasing
Format: DVD - Color,Letterboxed - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 01/20/2004
Original Release Date: 07/24/1998
Theatrical Release Date: 07/24/1998
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 30min
Screens: Color,Letterboxed
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Cantonese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Where's the palace?
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Zhang Yuan's relationship with the Chinese authorities, never especially cordial, reached an all-time low with East Palace West Palace. The problem was the subject matter - homosexuality in Bejing. (The title refers to a meeting place for gays - public toilets in spitting distance of The Forbidden Palace.) When the film was selected for Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Festival, the director had his passport confiscated. No official reasons were given for this sanction, but in the West it was presumed that the had broken an unwritten law - homosexuality is still considered taboo in Chinese cinema. Inevitably, the controversy raised the film's profile. "I was astonished to find out that the Beijing homosexuals knew the parks where the best-looking police were," Zhang commented when asked to explain what inspired the film. "They like the uniforms: there's an incredibly direct connection between sex and power." The story concerns a young gay writer (Si Han) who has the temerity to confront a heterosexual cop (Hu Jun). At first, the cop, who arrests him, is disgusted by his antics, but when the couple spend an evening in each other's presence, the policeman becomes fascinated with his provocative young prisoner who goads him to behave ever more brutally. However much he tries to suppress it, the cop seems attracted to the writer. East Palace West Palace was made on a tight budget of around $260,000 (with support from The Hubert Bals Fund). Critics in Cannes and elsewhere were as impressed with Zhang's formal mastery as with his willingness to tackle uncompromising material. The consensus was that the film, which has also been produced as a play, showed a technical virtuosity which some of his earlier work had lacked. They also noted how the director successfully coaxed subtle but intense performances from his two leads. Zhang Yuan is already well-known to Rotterdam audiences (his 1995 effort Erzi (Sons) won a Tiger Award). East Palace, West Palace is likely to confirm his reputation as one of the most innovative and iconoclastic young directors working in Chinese cinema. I believe this movie is still banned in China, but the word must have spreaded around underground. If you are gay and anywhere related to Beijing, you must have heard of the "East Palace" and "West Palace", two famous gay cruising public WC near TianAnMen in Beijing. This movie borrowed the popular name, but is not about the life in the WC. It is about the obsessing and confusing between a gay and a policeman. It is the first gay movie out of mainland China, and is well received worldwide. The movie will be released in America late part of the year."
Hauntingly Beautiful
T. R. Rak | 08/15/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Si Han performs brilliantly as A-Lan, a young gay writer who falls madly in love with Shi, a macho police officer (played by Hu Jun) who has arrested and proceeds to interrogate him intensively. A key idea to understanding this film is that there is no such thing as love, real compassionate devotionate unconditional love, without at least some element(s) or component(s) of suffering or genuine sacrifice involved. Si Han's powerful acting renders A-Lan's ardent passion, suffering and compassion into vivid cinematic actualization, translated very well to VHS with excellent subtitling.There is mystery, subtlety, subtext, metaphor and allusion in this movie which only heighten the audience's interest. What, for example, is A-Lan referring to exactly when he speaks of his being "married?" We are captivated by this mesmerizing captive as he gradually unveils his story, and his soul, to the cop, his captor, his tormentor, possibly even his executioner, yet at the same time his deeply beloved.In the hands of a lesser director this film might've failed on any number of levels, but Zhang Yuan has crafted a jewel, a delicate labor of love no less. This film reminds the reviewer of the sort of humanistic psychology reminiscent of Carl Rogers, also the kinds of healing breakthroughs achieved by Gong Shu, art therapist and acclaimed student of psychodrama's cofounder Zerka Moreno. "East Palace, West Palace" is so imbrued with hope, care, sensitivity and metanoia for and towards its characters that one gets the feeling these actors (and actresses) all of them are Yuan's own beloved children. With a gentle but firm, parental hand he directs and guides his exceptional cast to incredible fruition in their compelling portrayals and core revelations.There is something for everyone here. There is fantastic and poignant humor; one will come away never thinking of "bus" in quite the same light ever again. There is sex; lots of it, gobs of it, sometimes even extremely violent sex, though rendered all-the-more powerfully precisely because much of it is left to that ocean of sensuality and eroticism itself, the theatre of the mind. And there are moments in this movie where your eyes will well with tears, and you will welcome them.If it is true that, as comparative mytheologian Joseph Campbell insists, "from sacrifice comes bliss," then the many and great sacrifices Zhang Yuan made to bring "East Palace, West Palace" to us are rewarded in the exceptional bliss which you will discover and engage in this rare, precious and life-giving gem from Beijing. Please don't miss it."
Interesting story of repression of gays in China
Bob Lind | Phoenix, AZ United States | 12/19/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)

""Dong gong xi gong (East Palace West Palace)" (1996; also released under the title "Behind the Forbidden City" in 1998) is a rather unique story about the overnight detention of a young gay Chinese man, A Lan, who was caught having sex with a man in a park near the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. Although homosexuality was not actually illegal during the time in which the film is set, gays in that country were routinely harrassed by the police, who could detain and arrest them for "hooliganism". The film unreels as A Lan tells his captor, a young park policeman named Xiao Shi, about his life, including his gradual realization that he was gay, and his experiences and yearnings. He reveals that he is married, which makes him a bit of an outcast among his other gay friends who gather at the park. His childhood recollections somewhat explain why he has a particular fascination to big, male authority figures who treat him badly, including his police captor. The policeman, who consistently called A Lan "disgusting" and worthy of shame, is also fighting his own fascination with the boy's story, and his growing attraction to him as well.

From what I have read in a couple of other reviews, the film has considerable political relevance in that it was the first Chinese film to criticize the government's hypocritical treatment of homosexuals. The film's director was reportedly arrested in 1997, and it is only because of friends' actions that the film was smuggled out of the country, where it was featured at the Cannes film festival. Obviously, I can't comment or judge based on political or cultural relevance, but the story itself is intriguing, the cinematography and direction excellent, and I was especially intrigued with Si Han, the young actor who played A Lan, who probably had constant, dramatic dialogue during 60 of the film's 94 minutes..."
A Surprising Look at China
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 12/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

""East Palace, West Palace"

A Surprising Look at China

Amos Lassen

"East Palace, West Palace" (Strand Releasing) is the first film dealing with homosexuality to be made in China and for that alone it is important. It is important to note that while homosexuality is not illegal in China yet gay men are persecuted routinely and charged with "hooliganism". This is the basis of the film.
A-Lan, a young gay writer, who because of his attraction for a young policeman sets himself up to be arrested and questioned all night by the object of his desire. He relates his life story during the interrogation and it is, by and large, the story of the repression of Chinese society. As he weaves his story, Xiao Shi, the policeman changes his attitude toward his arrestee from one of revulsion to fascination and ultimately attraction.
This plot is interesting in purpose but is hard to sustain for a long period of time. It causes the movie to move slowly and if the viewer buys into the psychological premise, only then does it become interesting.
Actually the focus on gay issues is only one layer of the film and a flimsy one at that. What the film actually looks at is a society in transition as it explores the constructs of power, the machinery of the state and dehumanization by outmoded institutions. There is visual beauty here that at times is pure escapism and the film is full of surprises but only if you know to look at it on that level. The gay theme is no more than a metaphor for the larger society and must be regarded as such. As the film comes together there are looks at the politics of desire and then at the politics of politics themselves. What are debated in the interrogation are the right to freedom on a large scale and not just the right to sexual freedom. Included in the rights to freedom are the rights to self expression, the right to identity; to being oneself. In the dialog between A-Lan and the policeman we see no clear lines that are drawn between the oppressor and the oppressed or between the loving and the loved. Because the movie is so abstract, it also very personal.
"East Palace, West Palace" is powerful in its subtlety and the way it brings attention to the relation of power and subordination in what is supposed to be a modern country. The film is not sympathetic to the plight of the Chinese homosexual even with its references to it. The message of the film rests in a philosophy that a repressed society is in many ways responsible for its own domination. The film only uses homosexuality as a way to portray weakness and subordination. While Xiao Shi finds A-Lan's homosexuality reprehensive, he eventually falls in love with him. A-Lan's arrest also seems to me to be a metaphor for China living in an age of non-enlightenment. Yet as the new day breaks and the understanding between the two men become clearer, we see China also moving into a new direction. The use of gay stereotypes in subtle but subversive ways as a social commentary succeeds wonderfully and makes this a film that engenders great thought. Using a simple means to tell a powerful story was a stroke of genius by director Zhang Yuan.
Even with its strong message the film does not preach but it does move the viewer. It draws the viewer into the interrogation room as he looks closely at what transpires there as sexual tensions and politics merge and freedom in the face of tyranny is examined. We come away with a feeling of frustration as we should. We find we have more questions than we have answers and this is representative of cinema that makes the viewer reflect on what he has seen.
"East Palace, West Palace" was banned in China because; it is said, to deal with homosexuality. Nothing could be more untrue--it was banned because of the way it depicts Chinese society.