Wayne Yung Retrospective: My Chinese-Canadian Boyfriend

part of the Beijing Queer Film Festival 2011

Guest curated by Doris Yeung

An introduction from the curator: In a way, Wayne Yung really is my Chinese-Canadian boyfriend. I met Wayne when I curated my first film festival in 2003 shortly after moving to Amsterdam. I had heard of him from mutual friends who knew he was living in Germany and suggested I look him up being both fellow queer North American Chinese expatriate filmmakers living in Europe. We had a blast at the festival as he generously helped guide a very enthusiastic but very inexperienced festival organizer through lost tapes and bad subtitles. We quickly became partners in crime and over the years, brainstormed of ways to radicalize the Asians and Queers in Europe, to not be ashamed to show their faces and hear their own voices and desires on screen and off. As members of the silent model minority in North America, the so-called “good studious immigrant Asian kids”, we slowly but surely became rebels with a cause. We held queer karaoke “happenings” from Berlin to Amsterdam to show that anyone could make a video, have fun doing it and bring the queer community closer together. In the meantime Wayne also continued making videos about his queer, Asian, and now European identity and life as he became a fusion of different cultures and identities. In his work he has always sought to create dialogue with himself and others about who he is as he has always done in his more than 20 year career of making video art. Wayne is one of the pioneers of the queer video art form and continues to bravely explore his personal life and space to bring us the insights of his discoveries.


翁云青访谈An Interview with Wayne Yung:

1) Why is queer Asian identity such a predominant theme in your films?

In Western mainstream media, Asian men have been either underrepresented or misrepresented, even though we represent a very large population in many cities (e.g. Vancouver is almost 20% Chinese); in the gay media of the West, there’s even less people of colour. When I began making videos in 1994, there were almost no movies featuring gay Asian men, anywhere in the world. Today there is finally a much bigger variety of queer media being made in Asia, including lots of empowering (and sexy!) images of gay Asian men, and yet this isn’t sufficient for me, because it doesn’t address my concerns as a gay Asian in the West. For example, the subject of racism is very important to me, but it’s probably not much of an issue for a gay director in China, who grew up in a 100% Chinese environment. That’s why I still feel a need to produce my own images of gay Asian men in the Western context.



2) Where is home for you?

I’ve been living in Germany for ten years, and now feel very much that Berlin is my home; this is where I have my current projects (and a busy love life!) Recently I was visiting friends and family in Canada, and came to realize that when I feel nostalgic for Canada, it’s not just for the people and the place, but also the era (the 1990s) and life phase (my twenties). So even if I moved back to Vancouver tomorrow, it won’t be anything like what I remember, because the 1990s are long gone, and I’ll never be that young again.



3) What does the Chinese Diaspora mean to you?

I don’t see it as any kind of unified experience; growing up in Canada is nothing like growing up in Malaysia or the Netherlands or Trinidad, and those who emigrated before the 1960s are quite different from those who emigrated after the 1990s. I feel most closely related to Chinese-Canadians and Chinese-Americans of my generation or earlier. Within this narrower field of the Chinese Diaspora, I do feel very much part of a particular Chinese diasporic experience and culture: we have Chinese parents, and yet grew up in a North American pop culture with particular racial stereotypes, and were also influenced by the experiences of other groups such as blacks, Jews and First Nations people. But when I meet a Chinese who grew up in Berlin, none of these aspects has any significance.



4) Describe what being Canadian means to you?

For me, it’s simply about having shared a common cultural experience: growing up in a Canadian school system and watching Canadian television (both of which necessitate a working knowledge of the English language), as well as consuming the products found in a Canadian environment, both material and cultural. Even though I no longer live in Canada, I do still feel very much Canadian, as a result of having spent the first thirty years of my life in Canada, and having a personality very much formed by the Canadian context.



5) You have lived in Hong Kong, Canada and Germany. What were your impressions as a queer Chinese-Canadian living in these places and where did you enjoy living the most?

Other queer Chinese-Canadians form the core of my personal “nation/community,” and the largest numbers of such people are to be found in Vancouver and Toronto. When I show my work at a film festival in these cities, where a large part of my audience is other queer Chinese-Canadians, I know that my stories resonate especially well, and do not require the contextualizing explanations that I have to give to a Berlin audience, for example.



On the other hand, in Hong Kong I felt very isolated. Part of it was the language: although my parents speak Cantonese, I speak only a little, and can’t really carry a conversation. But a much bigger problem was cultural: even when speaking English with gay Hong Kongers, I found that their concerns were very different from mine, and my political viewpoints were quite alien to them. I was much too Westernized, and had Western expectations of what the gay scene (and the arts scene) should look like.


Germany for me is a stimulating balance between the familiar and the foreign. On the one hand, its Western culture makes perfect sense to me (e.g. being engaged in grassroots activism, having a critical stance towards consumerism, placing great emphasis on individuality and personal expression); and yet it’s not North America and it’s not English-speaking, so I’m constantly challenged to look at every issue from a different angle. Although I was quite happy living in Vancouver, moving to Germany was a very fruitful (and necessary) step in my personal and artistic development, and I’m very happy to live in Berlin today.


6) What is your dream story or project to make?

I used to dream about making a narrative feature film, with particular inspiration from the films of Wong Kar-Wai. However, I’ve since decided that it’s better to just continue doing what I’m doing, which is making short videos on a low-budget, so that I can preserve this freedom to do what I like, whenever I like, without having to please a producer or an arts council, and without waiting for the very long process of fundraising. My current projects are all scaled to the time and money that I have at my personal disposal, so that artmaking becomes a natural part of my daily life, and not a constant battle with “the system”.



Wayne Yung Retrospective: My Chinese-Canadian Boyfriend, Doris Yeung, Beijing Queer Film Festival 2011, program notes.