SINGAPORE — Cheng Yu-chieh, the director of award-winning LGBTQ film, Dear Tenant, hopes that his work will show viewers that love is love, whatever shape or form it comes in.
Dear Tenant recently won big at the Golden Horse Film Awards for Mandarin-language films, picking up Best Leading Actor for Mo Tzu-yi, Best Supporting Actress for Chen Shu-fang (Chen also won Best Leading Actress for Little Big Women) and Best Original Film Score.
Speaking to local media in Mandarin in an interview last week, 43-year-old Taiwanese actor-filmmaker Cheng said he was happy that Dear Tenant was able to pass the censor in Singapore with no cuts to the film, although it received an R21 rating for sexual scenes and LGBTQ themes. Dear Tenant is currently screening in cinemas in Singapore.
In Dear Tenant, Jian-yi (Mo Tzu-yi) is a gay man whose partner has died, but he continues taking care of his partner's son, You-yu (Pai Jun-yin), from his partner’s previous straight marriage, as well as his partner's mother Hsiu-yu (Chen Shu-fang). The movie revolves around the unusual but moving relationship between Jian-yi and his “adopted” son You-yu. Jian-yi faces homophobic discrimination and microaggressions as he is investigated for the death of You-yu’s grandmother, Hsiu-yu.
To other characters and state institutions (the police and prosecutor) that don't know Jian-yi as a person, he is viewed with much prejudice; but through the eyes of the boy You-yu and the grandmother Hsiu-yu, we see and feel his love for this non-biological family of his, that he knows only through his late partner – but who are family nonetheless to him. It's an affirmation of the love that exists within queer families, of the purity of such a love that is felt by those who experience it directly even if it's invisible to a faceless society. (Read our review of Dear Tenant here.)
Cheng was in the process of writing the script for Dear Tenant when his country, Taiwan, made the historic decision to legalise same-sex marriage in 2019. The director, who is himself heterosexual and married with children, did not find it difficult to write a film featuring a gay romance and queer themes. According to Cheng, love is love, whether it’s found within gay or straight relationships.
“I made this film for all the people in society who carry on loving, and are determined to love, despite facing a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding from others,” said Cheng. “I’m very moved by people who courageously express their love in the face of such stigma.”
Dear Tenant is not a straightforward love story, but more of a family drama. Cheng was not as interested in the gay romance as the practical realities of life that queer families experience, which are not that different from heteronormative families – for example, the nuts and bolts of taking care of children, or taking care of the elderly within families.
Many Chinese LGBTQ films are made in the more liberal and democratic Taiwan, rather than other Chinese-speaking countries such as China, Singapore and Malaysia, where filmmakers face government and societal restrictions. Another Golden Horse-winning Taiwanese queer film this year is Your Name Engraved Herein, which will be released on Netflix on 23 December. Asked whether he feels that the responsibility of making queer Chinese films has fallen on the shoulders of Taiwan, Cheng said he didn’t think so, saying that he merely made a film about love and not only about gay people.
“Love comes in many forms, but the essence of love is the same, whether between gay people or straight people,” said Cheng. He added that many cinema-goers who watched Dear Tenant in Taiwan were in fact not LGBTQ. “Most of the audience were not gay, and included many older and more conservative viewers. People come for the story.”
Cheng himself is a family man – he shares that he goes home early everyday after work to his home in the mountains of Taiwan to spend time with his family. That likely inspired the breathtaking mountain settings that are found in Dear Tenant. Those scenes were shot on two mountains in central Taiwan – Xue Shan, or Snow Mountain, and Mount Hehuan.
Cheng said Taiwan’s mountains are very beautiful, and encouraged tourists to visit the mountains when they come to Taiwan. We’ll keep that in mind when travel restrictions are lifted!
Here’s a message from director Cheng and actress Chen Shu-fang to viewers in Singapore: