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