“Goodbye Mother,” LGBTQ shorts feature at Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

Photo: “Goodbye Mother”

The Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, running November 5-15, offers dozens of features, documentaries, and shorts, as well as creative discussions and live performances. The programs, which are all online this year, include one gay narrative film, “Goodbye Mother,” which is available to screen November 11 to 15, (and restricted to North America), as well as a queer shorts program, which will be available to stream November 5 to 15, with international availability. Once purchased, all films have a 24-hour window for watching. (For more details, visit: https://tickets.paaff.org/2020/how-to-festival/

The sensitive, engaging drama, “Goodbye Mother,” is both a narrative of return and a coming out tale. When the closeted Van (Lanh Thanh) arrives home to see his mother (Hong Dao) after nine years in the U.S., he brings his boyfriend Ian (Vo Dien Gia Huy) with him. Van plans to tell his mother about his relationship with Ian, but that opportunity is missed after Van’s grandmother (Nsut Le Thien), who has dementia, mistakes Ian for her grandson. 

Van and Ian keep their affection for each other discreet; they sleep together but set an alarm so they can separate before being discovered, and they often steal kisses in the bathroom. But Van is being pressured to get married, and tensions develop in their relationship as a result. “Goodbye Mother” also features various subplots dealing with health and money that expose other deceptions in the family. 

Director Trinh Dinh Le Minh delicately balances the drama, and the actors convey the emotions well. Hong Dao gives a lovely performance as the mother, often signaling what she is thinking without words. Both Lanh Thanh and Vo Dien Gia Huy make an attractive couple, and the film is best when they are together. And Nsut Le Thien steals every scene she is in as granny. This is an enjoyable film that may not tread new ground, but it provides a feeling of comfort even as the characters all face awkward situations. 

The LBGTQ shorts program, entitled, “Queer Futures” offers seven strong films. 

“Gay as in Happy: A Queer Anti-Tragedy” is Jordana Valerie Allen-Shim’s “unapologetic queer fuck you” to everyone who misgenders or invalidates her, or is transphobic. It’s a smart, visually inventive short that is upbeat even as it addresses some painful topics.

“The Mood in the United States Today” has Rabia (Mehr Ansari), a caregiver, marrying her patient, Ellen (Mary Niederkorn), to stay legally in the United States. Writer/director Ward Kamel’s film addresses the rights of immigrants and the benefits of same-sex marriage, as Rabia grapples with dramatic changes in her life. 

“Blue Suit” is a poignant romantic drama about John (Ivan Mok), who has one night to tell Henry (Andrew Ge) that he is in love with him. Writer/director Kevin J. Nguyen captures the sexual tension between the two characters nicely and Mok makes John’s longing palpable. 

In the comic short, “Graduation,” Wizz (Dylan J. Locke) wants to spend one more night with Calvin (Todd Lien) before he leaves for Shanghai with his mother, Mingyi (Crystal J. Huang). As he conspires to do this, Mingyi and Calvin’s father, Xudong (Arthur Peng), consider their sons’ futures — and their own. “Graduation” is simple, but it is satisfying.

 “Parental Guidance Suggested” is an empowering documentary that features a half-dozen members of the Hawaiian LGBTQ community answering questions from parents of queer children. The topics range from homophobia and religion to wanting grandchildren. The advice is sound, and the pride is heartfelt.  

In less than three minutes, “Bind” captures the tensions between trans teen Jules (Hua Chai) and her mother (Kate Chang) when the latter discovers her daughter’s chest binder. However, writer/director Emory Chao Johnson’s compelling short feels like it is just a teaser for a feature.

Rounding out the program is the stylish animated entry, “Kapaemahu,” which recounts the history of four, tall, non-male/non-female visitors that arrived in Waikiki from Tahiti centuries ago. This interesting short explains the healing and wisdom they brought to the island community, and the sacred stone site that embodies these trans-spirit powers that remains there today. 

For more information about the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, visit https://paaff.org/

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