There is a bizarre treatment of #Asian men in Hollywood movies and television. Too busy being depicted as the "model minority," Asian men rarely score the part of the love interest or the romantic lead, as if they are something less than sexy and masculine. It was a breakthrough moment when John Cho was revealed to be the star and love interest in the short-lived show #Selfie.
As if this weren't already a bad situation for Asian men as a whole, gay Asian men (who don't simply deal with being desexualized, but also struggle to break free of the stigma that most #LGBT people face) hardly exist in mainstream media. While gay romance films are becoming common in Asia, they are difficult to come by in the U.S.
In recent years, however, two such films have come out: Front Cover and Eat With Me. These films highlight the culture and struggles gay Asian men face, and show us that gay Asian men are as sexy, empowered and desirable as anyone else. Here's how.
Front Cover tells the story of Ryan (Jake Choi), a Chinese-American fashion stylist living in New York City who must work with Ning (James Chen), a homophobic and closeted Chinese actor. The two clash from the beginning; Ning is put off by how open and confident Ryan is with his sexuality, while Ryan struggles with someone who is so full of Chinese pride and is also homophobic.
As the two work to overcome their differences and successfully introduce Ning's brand to the U.S. market, a bond forms that leaves them looking at love and culture in ways unexpected.
Despite an opening sequence that kicked off with a The Devil Wears Prada-like vibe, Front Cover delivers a surprisingly insightful narrative. While Ning struggles with his sexuality — an experience not to be taken lightly — it is Ryan who is at the center of this tale. Ryan embraces his sexuality and his place in the NYC fashion world, yet he also uses them to hide from the deep-seated shame he harbors about his roots as the son of poor Chinese immigrants.
Both Ning and viewers were surprised to discover that, while Ryan won't even speak to his parents in their native tongue, his mother and father embrace their son's sexuality. In fact, they hoped that Ning would be Ryan's chance at happiness, despite knowing that Ryan is a self proclaimed "potato queen."
While Ryan hides behind his sexuality to avoid his lineage, Ning does the opposite, presenting himself as the alpha male and a true man of China. Starring in war films and initially refusing to work with Ryan because of his sexuality, he works overtime to keep his forbidden attractions out of his own reach. However, when his attraction to Ryan reaches a breaking point, Ning gives in to a fleeting mix of societal freedom, sexual intimacy and an emotional connection that changes both men.
'Eat With Me'
Eat With Me introduces us to Emma (Sharon Omi), an Asian-American immigrant who goes to stay with her estranged gay son, Elliot (Teddy Chen Culver) when she becomes dissatisfied with her stale marriage. Before his mother even shows up at his door, Elliot is struggling to keep his Chinese restaurant out of foreclosure while also navigating L.A.'s gay dating scene.
Together under one roof, the two see the void in their relationship more clearly than ever. Looking to others, Elliot meets a new love interest who pushes him to confront his fear of emotional intimacy, while Emma hesitantly embraces a friendship with her son's eccentric neighbor, Maureen (Nicole Sullivan).
However, when it comes to trying to embrace their own relationship, Emma and Elliot find that where words fail them, cooking brings them together.
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Unable to accept her son's lifestyle, Emma is in many ways the stereotypical parent pretending to ignore what is right in front of her. When she shows up seeking refuge from her marriage, Elliot can't turn his mother away, despite how much he wants to. Begrudgingly, he makes every effort to shield his mother from any indicators of his gay life.
This, however, does not last, and they must both come to terms with who they are as people. Emma's struggle is common among parents, though with a little handholding from the free-spirited Maureen, she begins the journey of trying to accept her son's sexual orientation.
Hooking up with a musclebound white guy early on in the film, Elliot quickly accepts that he is a fling, and minimizes his self worth, as his mother does in her marriage. This is the tone that Elliot presumably brings to all of his short-lived relationships.
This, compounded with the underlying notion that as an Asian man he is less desirable, leaves Elliot hesitant when Ian (Aidan Bristow), a white musician, begins pursuing him as something more than a fling. Yet, as he allows himself to be pursued further by Ian, he begins to shed his fears and accept that he is a beautiful, sexual man as deserving and capable of love as anyone else.
There is still much work to be done in bringing gay Asian characters to the screen and eradicating the myth that Asian men are in any way less sexual and desirable than their Caucasian counterparts. Whether you have all the confidence of Ryan or you are overcoming your insecurities like Elliot, these two films will serve to help highlight a life and struggle that is so rarely addressed in film.
Movies like Front Cover and Eat With Me are a refreshing sign of hope, and will help pave the way for implementing change in mainstream Hollywood — and, perhaps, eventually Western culture.
What is your favorite LGBT Asian film? Tell us in the comments below!