Cut Sleeve or tuan hsiu (斷袖) is an euphemism for homosexuality which originated in the Han dynasty (220-260 BC). The history books have it that Emperor Ai (6BCE-1CE) had woken up one day to find his beloved male concubine asleep on his sleeve and unwilling to disturb the sleeping youth, the emperor cut off the sleeve of his royal robe. The "Passion of the Cut Sleeve" has since become a favoured court statement by the Han literati as a term for male love.
Yeung, who has worked as Festival director of the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival since 2000, was inspired to write a romantic comedy after having to struggle to find queer films made by Asians to screen at the festival each year.
He said in a statement: "I wanted to watch a film about modern gay Asian lives. A film which asks 'What happens to gay men once when they have accepted their queerness? Do they live gaily ever after?'"
The film, which is the art director and qualified lawyer's first feature, focuses on the British-Chinese gay experience and aims to address the "common misconception of all gay Chinese men being effeminate. While he wrote Ash as a very effeminate gay man, he hopes to turn this stereotype on its head.
"At the end of his (Ash) journey, we discover it takes a true man to dare to be effeminate. In the modern scene, gay men are restricted by a self-imposed 'straight' jacket which they feel pressurised to wear. Camp men are at the bottom of the hierarchy in the cruising ground. Is this a form of inverted homophobia?" He asks.
Fending off accusations that the characters weren't "Chinese" enough, Yeung retorted: "Is the character's yellow skin not enough to remind the audience that they are of a different race? Must they also encounter 'Chinese'problems like family pressure, immigration issues, inability to communicate with a few drug trafficking or triad attacks thrown in for good measure to demonstrate their Chineseness?"
Although the movie is not currently scheduled to be screened in Singapore, local viewers would be curious to catch up with popular TV actor and recent LAMDA graduate Steven Lim who plays egoistic muscle mary, Melvyn Shu, after living the city state for London in the early 2000s.
In the US, Here! Films has acquired North American distribution rights to Cut Sleeve Boys from worldwide sales agent Fortissimo Films and will be released theatrically in the fall.
On the next page, Fridae speaks to Leow and gets more tidbits about the making of the film.
Ten interesting facts about "Cut Sleeve Boys"
2. The original story was about four Asian friends who had been at university together, Gavin - the closet case who dies; Mel - the insecure muscle mary; Ash - the camp cross dresser who doesn't fit into the mainstream gay scene; Ed - who is bored in a long term relationship. The Ed storyline was dropped two weeks before we were due to start shooting due to time constraints although it is now being developed as it's own script.
3. The most difficult location to secure was to find a Christian cemetery willing to give them permission to film at. "Almost all rejected us when they found out we were a gay comedy and the funeral guests included a 6' 2" black transvestite!" Exclaimed Leow.
4. The most challenging location to find was an old Victorian gentlemen's public convenience (toilet) which looked the part and could also fit in a film crew. "Patrick Duval, the film's amazing cinematographer did miracles in a cubicle the size of a broom cupboard in the cottaging scene," said Leow.
5. Rebecca Pan, the Chinese singer whose songs feature in the film is now also an Arthouse actress. She was the landlady in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love. More info and background on her can be found on www.cutsleeveboys.com.
6. The red-fringed dress that Ash wears to the club once belonged to Madam JoJo. It is part of the collection that Chowee inherited from Jojo when she retired from the club. It is engineered specifically for drag queens and will transform pecs into a plunging cleavage.
7. The 15 cross-dressers in the Sashay Boudoir club scene were found on a rainy Sunday afternoon in the east end of London at a transgender friendly Line dancing event.
8. The original Todd was written as a Yorkshire lad but when Gareth came for the audition, Choweee and gang "saw his body, oops, we meant his acting;" they knew the character had to come from the Welsh valleys to fit in with Gareth's background."
9. One of the deleted scenes include Mel/Steven Lim doing mock Peking opera wearing Ash/Chowee's fuschia dressing gown and reciting the Cut Sleeve poem in falsetto. (Watch out for the deleted scenes on the DVD)
10. Ray does a Hitchcock moment by appearing as one of the trannies in the "Trannylingus" web site.
Cut Sleeves Boys will be screened at the Bangkok International Film Festival on Feb 19 and 23 at 9pm at Siam Paragon. Tickets for the festival's regular screenings as well as other sidebar events are available for sale at the Siam Paragon Box Office. Please click here for more details. The film is also in the Asian Digital Competition at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in April.