In Chinese Entertainment Gay is the New Straight

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By Robert Cain for China FIlm Biz

December 19, 2012

Here’s one recipe for making a film or TV show a hit in China: cast at least two handsome male leads and put them in homoerotic situations that young females can fantasize about. Leave everything to the girls’ imaginations, but make it easy for them to picture the virile males making out and doing other sexy things to one another. If the men are attractive enough and the situations hot enough, young Chinese women will go bananas and you’ll have a major money maker on your hands.

For reasons that are beyond my limited understanding, the libidos of Chinese girls and women born after the mid-1980s are highly susceptible to homoerotic images in media. Foreign TV shows like the UK’s “Sherlock” and America’s “Big Bang Theory” are enormously popular there at least partly because they comedically hint and tease around the possibility of their male leads’ homosexuality. The Holmes character in “Sherlock” is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, one of the prettiest male faces on television, and he constantly finds himself in situations that suggest a possible gay relationship with his sidekick Watson, played by Martin Freeman.Sherlock and Holmes

For instance, in “Sherlock’s” first episode when Holmes and Watson move in together, their landlady apparently believes they are a couple and says: “There’s another bedroom upstairs … that is if you’ll be needing one.”

Later on, the pair share a meal in London’s gay Soho district, where the restaurant owner says: “Sherlock, you can have anything on the menu for you and your date. I’ll get a candle for the table. It’s more romantic.”

“Big Bang Theory,” the most popular American TV series in China, frequently toys with the idea that the characters Raj and Howard may have erotic feelings for one another. Another character, Leonard’s mother, observes that Raj and Howard are in an “ersatz homosexual marriage that satisfies [their] need for intimacy.” And she once asked them directly, “Have you finally summoned the courage to express your latent homosexual feelings for one another?”Howard and Raj

Raj offers plenty of fodder for speculation about his sexual orientation, saying things like, “It’s like accidentally walking into a gay bar and then having no one hit on you. It happened to, um, a friend of mine.” Or revealing that he had a dream in which he and Howard had side-by-side mansions, “but there was a secret tunnel connecting [Howard’s] front yard to [Raj’s] back yard.”

Domestic and imported feature films also offer many opportunities for young Chinese women to get aroused. John Woo’s Red Cliff has a famous scene at the end where handsome Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro–widely considered one of Asia’s hottest actors–approach each other against a romantic backdrop, wind blowing through the barley field. The pair stand nose to nose for several minutes speaking to each other, perhaps barely resisting a kiss, as Leung’s character says “No matter what may happen, this experience is engraved in my heart.” To which Kaneshiro’s character replies, “I too shall not forget.”

The recent Sherlock Holmes films, also popular in China, star two of the prettiest boys in cinema, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. Those films are also notable for their homoerotic tension, and Downey has suggested that Holmes could be a “butch homosexual”, adding that the films are about “two men who happen to be room-mates, wrestle a lot and share a bed.”

When Marvel’s The Avengers released in China to huge box office returns earlier this year, the most heated online discussions were not amongst nerdy fanboys, but among girls speculating that the Loki character might be gay, and that he could be in a romantic relationship with Thor or Iron Man. Stephen Soderbergh’s Magic Mike was likewise the source of much internet chatter in the PRC.El Sexo de Los Angeles

The biggest lust-inducing film for Chinese girls is unquestionably the Spanish import El Sexo de Los Angeles, which has reportedly been viewed over 400 million times in China via the internet. That film centers on a male-female-male relationship that is described by IMDB as a “steamy love triangle”:

“Struggling martial artist and dancer Bruno loves his girlfriend Carla, but when he meets fellow [male] dancer Rai, serious sparks begin to fly, opening the couple up to new possibilities. A new generation navigates sexual fluidity, torn affections, and open relationships in this steamy love triangle. But once Bruno’s clandestine encounters with Rai are revealed, a confused and hurt Carla kicks him out. But she simply doesn’t want to give up on her love. Eventually she agrees that Bruno can date them both.”

Female microbloggers on China’s Sina Weibo have described the film thusly:

“Two men and a woman love each other, a three-way love, ever so harmonious living together. Oh my Buddha!”

“Unique, thought-provoking. Two handsome, suave, sexy charming men, wild and unconstrained, humorous, considerate and gently daring to love, so strong yet so fragile.”

“Are you a homosexual or BISEXUAL? Does it matter? It’s sexual.”

400 million views. For a low-budget Spanish language film. Perhaps now would be a good time for all of us to set aside our big budget, testosterone-driven action extravaganzas in favor of films that explore the softer, more intimate side of male-male relationships.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at and at

China Film Personality: Han Sanping

by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 7, 2012

This week Hollywood welcomes one of the Chinese film industry’s most important and influential players, Han Sanping (韓三平). As Chairman of the Chinese government/business mega-conglomerate China Film Group, Han is responsible for more financing, production, distribution, export and import of films than everyone else in China combined.

Han is visiting Los Angeles this week to meet with executives at several studios (Universal, Sony and Disney have been specifically mentioned in the industry trades) to seek out co-producing partners, and to consider requests for precious import quota slots. A couple of clients of mine are meeting Han this week to ask that he allow their blockbusters to screen in Chinese cineplexes.

There is no real Hollywood equivalent to Han, because he wears so many hats: producer, director, studio executive, government administrator, and mentor. If you took Jack Valenti, Lew Wasserman, and Steven Spielberg and rolled them into one, you’d begin to get an idea of Han’s power and influence in China. He has overseen the production and distribution of hundreds of movies and television series, he manages the Beijing Film Studios, and he has final greenlight authority on all co-productions with foreign partners.

Han is also widely recognized as a kingmaker who has nurtured the careers of such top directors as Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou and Feng Xiaogang, and of many leading Chinese actors and actresses as well.

The kingmaker’s own career was nurtured and mentored by my new friend Liu Cheng. Han began producing movies nearly 20 years ago, which makes him the equivalent of an OG in China because there are few film veterans who can claim that sort of longevity. He has had a producing role on numerous Chinese blockbusters including Red Cliff (directed by John Woo), The Warlords (Peter Chan), Shaolin (Benny Chan) and Aftershock (Feng Xiaogang), and on such Hollywood films as Mission Impossible III and The Karate Kid. He also directed two of China’s highest grossing films of the past three years, the star-studded, Chinese Communist Party sponsored propaganda films The Founding of a Republic and The Beginning of the Great Revival.

Last year I helped Han to evaluate Hollywood visual effects companies for one of his films, and as a result I gained some access to his inner circle. I’ve heard that his trip this week has yielded at least one major surprise: there has been a marked negative shift in the major studios’ attitudes toward co-production with Chinese partners.

Apparently, in the wake of the Chinese government’s recent announcement regarding its relaxation of film import quotas and its enhancement of revenue sharing, the studios’ appetites have diminished for co-production as a means of boosting their China business. With enough quota slots now for each major studio to average 5 or 6 Chinese releases per year, and with their share of revenue now bumped up to 25 percent of box office gross, the Hollywood giants see little incentive to deal with the hassles of Chinese co-production. An unanticipated consequence of Beijing’s opening up of the Chinese market is that it may encourage less Hollywood cooperation, not more. Most of the studios have had trying experiences in the past with Chinese partners, and any incremental revenue they might theoretically earn by making movies in China isn’t considered sufficient compensation for the risks, creative restrictions, and headaches they would have to bear.

From my vantage point this is a good thing. China still wants access to Hollywood expertise and market clout, and the less the studios want to provide these things the more opportunity there will be for entrepreneurial American and other foreign companies. We may see more Chinese money begin to flow into high profile independent productions.

Han Sanping won’t have to concern himself with these issues for much longer; he’s nearing the mandatory retirement age of 60, and it’s widely anticipated that he will soon be leaving his post. Some speculate that Zhang Qiang, a younger protégée of Han’s, will step into the China Film Group chairman’s seat later this year.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at and at