You know how it is. It’s one of those days when the temperature goes so far up that by mid-afternoon you’re sagging. Clearly what you need is the sofa, a cool glass of iced tea with your popcorn, and a brilliant Chinese melodrama about tragic love.

By the way, if you see posters for the film you might be fooled into thinking beautiful Chinese film star Gong Li is the star of this film. She’s not. This is a film about love between two men.

Normally when I settle in for one of those sinful Saturday afternoon popcorn flicks, it’s something cheesy and action-packed — Michelle Yeoh’s magnificently silly Wing Chun or Jean Dujardin perfecting that cross between James Bond and Austin Powers in OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spiesjust to name a couple of them.

In contrast, the tragic beauty and long durée of Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine might be termed the filmic equivalent of reading a 19th-century novel, except you can get through it in an afternoon.

The story is beautiful and horrible — the tale of two boys, effectively orphaned and installed at a school that prepares them to perform in the Beijing Opera, where they’re tormented by the school’s sadistic masters. As they mature into true opera stars, they face the changing tides of Chinese politics and history. Yet somehow the filmmaker’s gentle, persistent humanitarianism never makes you turn away, never indulges in the pornography of pain.

It’s not merely a film about their friendship. It’s a film about these men’s love for one another, a bond between them that is so overwhelming it must be experienced to be understood.

And oh, Leslie Cheung as Dieyi. As a small boy he trained to perform the Opera’s Dan (female) roles — a fateful casting that alters his life and self-identification forever. It’s not just that Cheung is in reality so beautiful, nor that he mastered the exquisite feminine movements of his roles so completely. The truly magnificent aspect of his acting comes from his ability to wear his life history on his face; all those years of loneliness and suffering and learning how to be a woman onstage have left him permanently changed. It is unfathomable (but true) that he did not receive a single acting prize nomination for this role, even as the film won Cannes’ Palme D’Or and some 11 other best film prizes.

Farewell My Concubine was released nearly 20 years ago, yet its subtle views of sexuality, transgressive gender roles, and male love all feel fresh today. It’s so much like the Beijing Opera (and other forms of opera) — histrionic, overwrought, colorful, and yet delicate.

Really. On a hot day you indulge in watching it and wonder how you could have stomached a cheesy popcorn vehicle like Devil Girl From Mars.

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Space Bitchez talk back

20 April 2012

“I keep wondering what she’s thinking,” says Paul (Dennis Hopper), one of the astronauts who has discovered the strange green-skinned being from another planet in Queen of Blood (1966). Paul gazes into her green face, which is transfixed with an otherworldly, sphinxlike smile. Needless to say, Paul will not last much longer.

Paul (Dennis Hopper) is riveted by the silent, smiling Queen of Blood ... for a while

Oh, you foolish human mortals. In offering you this letter, we break our most sacred vow, which is to prevent you from learning of our existence. Whenever we watch one of your Hollywood films and someone says, “The universe is so vast that there must be more intelligent life out there,” everyone on our planet laughs hilariously. In fact, this line is a part of many movie-oriented drinking games on our planet. We find it delightful that you people are always congratulating yourselves on your “intelligence” yet can’t figure out that so many of us are hiding from you.

Despite our eagerness to remain hidden from you, we have recently caught up on one of your more bizarre film sub-genres and find ourselves unusually eager to set the record straight. Although these cheesy horror films about female monsters have spawned new and riotous drinking games, we would like to hope that our news might spur new advances in thinking among your kind.

The Queen of Blood gazes hungrily on the human males who may or may not become her next victims

Here’s the thing: films like Queen of Blood (1966), Devil Girl from Mars (1954), Queen of Outer Space (1958), and Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) each seem to believe that all us fine interstellar women are solely interested in rounding up some human men to eat and/or use as breeding stock. Let us offer a few comments.

First there are the plot elements that transform us into Space Bitchez to titillate human men. Honestly. As you read these, tell me whether you can actually begin to hear yourselves when you write this horseshit.

  • Space Bitchez come from a planet where gender relations have gone terribly wrong when the women took over.
  • Space Bitchez always have strange hypnotic powers over human males.
  • Sometimes Space Bitchez also have hypnotic powers over human females, whom they manipulate to get at the human males.
  • Space Bitchez always wear tight cat suits/ leather/ sexy flowing gowns. In Queen of Outer Space, Zsa Zsa Gabor insists on wearing slits up the side of every single one of her dresses, which makes us want to hurt someone.

There is no relationship whatsoever between Zsa Zsa's dresses and her half-witted decision to fall in love with one of these idiotic human males in Queen of Outer Space.

  • Space Bitchez utilize a sexy, compelling dance number to seduce the males.
  • Space Bitchez have all manner of advanced technology – space ships, Death Rays, lasers to shoot other people’s ships out of the sky – but can apparently come up with no substitute for human males.
  • At least a few of the Space Bitchez are susceptible to falling in love with one or two of the human males. (The rules of our planet’s drinking game demand that you drink twice upon witnessing this plot element.)
  • Despite the superiority of the Space Bitchez, the majority of human males always manage to escape unharmed in the end in their tar-paper rocket ships.

Ugh. It’s exhausting. Where does one even begin? It makes me want to fondle my Death Ray Laser Gun, which has a hair-trigger mechanism….

Human males overcome these badass Space Bitchez who serve the Queen of Outer Space in yet another highly unrealistic human male fantasy of superiority and desirability.

Let’s start with the fantasy that awesome women from space need or even want human males. Aside from the question of whether you could be any more obvious in your fantasy life, let’s just note that human men are almost as pathetic as lovers as they are as scientists. Possessing our superior intelligences means never having to say the words, “If only I had a human male to impregnate me/ find me attractive.” I can’t tell you the number of jokes we have about how many men it takes to stimulate a Space Bitch’s erogenous zone – needless to say, these jokes are hilarious.

Zsa Zsa leads the human males and then, inexplicably, pretends to let THEM save HER

Just remember this scene from Queen of Blood, in which astronauts Alan and Laura discuss the mysterious deaths of two of their colleagues:

Allan:  He didn’t fall asleep — I’m convinced of that now! And I don’t think Paul did either. She does something — hypnosis — some strange mental power that we don’t have. I’ve sensed it from the beginning — it’s deadly.

Laura:  I’m really afraid now, for the first time.

Space Bitchez do a facepalm. Are you people serious?

The Cat Women of the Moon wear unitards, which in our opinion is a strange choice among Space Bitchez

You may wonder how we know so much about human males’ sex skills. Surprising numbers of them find ways of offering themselves up to us as willing slaves; they occasionally show up on our planets, stow away on our ships, or fake emergency distress calls to find us. No matter how badly we treat them, they won’t go away.

The Cat Women engage in their regularly-scheduled Sexy Dance for the benefit of their human male invaders

Can I be any more clear? We don’t need hypnosis, sexy outfits, a sexy Dance Of Death to win you over. Not only do we have terrific sex lives on our own, but we procreate effortlessly without you. Our political economies don’t require men to function smoothly. Dialogue like this from Devil Girl From Mars is so wrong on so many levels that all we can do is drink. Here, the evil, leather-clad Nyah has come to Earth to round up some men as breeding stock:

Oh Nyah, how do you sleep at night after appearing in Devil Girl From Mars? Was it the leather outfit?

Nyah: Many years ago, our women were similar to your today. Our emancipation took several hundred years and ended in a bitter, devastating war between the sexes. The last war we ever had. …After the war of the sexes women became the rulers of Mars, and now the male has fallen into a decline. The birthrate is falling tremendously. For despite our advanced science, we have still found no way of creating life.

Ellen: So you’ve come here for new blood.

Nyah: In a way.

Okay, okay – we get it. We know these films help make you human males feel better about your pathetic space skills and low levels of desirability by imagining that there are Space Sexpots out there who want your loins. We know these films helped to undergird the gender inequalities in your culture by demonizing powerful women as Space Bitchez.

Would a real Cat Woman of the Moon really allow herself to fall in love with some human dork named Kip or Laird? I think not.

But we can also see there are chinks in your argument – that a few of your human males and females are starting to take off your blinders. And so we conclude with one of your own poets, Billy Collins, who frames it all quite nicely – perhaps even better than we could have done ourselves. (Collins, you are always welcome to visit space.)

All you have to do is listen to the way a man
sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people
and notice how intent he is on making his point
even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,
 
and you will know why the women in science
fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own
are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine
when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,

why they are always standing in a semicircle
with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,
their breasts protected by hard metal disks.

–Billy Collins, “Man in Space,” 1995

This piece was jointly written with fellow Space Bitch JE, who watched a lot of movies with me and knew about Billy Collins (by heart).