By first looking at the gay consumption of melodrama, this essay presents the notion of tears as a political trope to negotiate the reclamation of crying from being a signifier of gendered/sexual “weakness” to one of tactical empowerment, a tactics of tears. Gay political readings of melodrama, in identification with feminist reclamations of the genre, mobilize the subversive potentialities of tears, and hence of melodrama itself, to transcend the conservative limits of the gender relational and heteronormative familial values of the genre's traditional form. This theoretical turn enables this essay to then focus specifically on gay Chinese melodramatic cinema. The conventions of Chinese melodramatic mise-en-scène offer moments of excess or hyperbole that the gay romance melodramas rely on to confront the question of gay sexuality in Chinese society. Li-Kong Hsu and Chi Yin's Fleeing by Night and Stanley Kwan's Lan Yu engage gay sexuality through their interactions with Chinese melodramatic conventions, be it moving with or running against the grain of the genre. While Fleeing by Night abides more strictly by these conventions to produce a “hysterical” text of excess, Lan Yu resorts to the strategy of narrative truncation and erasure to deflect the focus from melodramatic spectacle onto that of the quotidian framing of gay sexuality and its normalcy. Ideology and melodrama are implicated in the way the traditions of form constrain and mold subject matter to produce and sustain hegemonic ideas and beliefs. But when faced with alternative values, practices, and worldviews, in this case gay sexuality, the melodramatic text turns “hysterical” in coping with the ideological excess. This essay's analysis of two instances of gay Chinese melodrama not only demonstrates the limits of melodrama as a form that gay filmmakers can work with but also suggests the genre's subversive potential.
Kenneth Chan; Tactics of Tears: Excess/Erasure in the Gay Chinese Melodramas of Fleeing by Night and Lan Yu. Camera Obscura 1 September 2008; 23 (2 (68)): 141–166. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2008-005
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