East Palace West Palace Analysis

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East Palace, West Palace (1996) is a film made by Zhang Yuan, a renowned Chinese independent filmmaker widely known as “one of the Sixth Generation pioneers of illegal cinema” (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010, p.640). Despite international critical acclaim, the film was banned in China due to its controversial portrayal of homosexuality and being part of “an underground movement existing outside the state studio system” (Lim, 2006, p.30). This response will examine how East Palace, West Palace’s depiction of a homosexual persecuted-persecutor relationship between A Lan and Shi Xiaohua allegorizes “the relationship between the artist-intellectual and the state”, while the use of masochism serves to undermine state authority by granting the masochistic subject agency despite being in a position of weakness. (Lim, 2006, p.70).

The portrayal of homosexuality in East Palace, West Palace, at the most basic level, draws attention to the marginalization and persecution of individuals who do not conform to state-sanctioned norms. Although “there is no law specifically forbidding homosexuality in China”, the opening of the film shows how homosexuals were nonetheless stigmatized as “disgusting” and routinely harassed by the police for ‘hooliganism’ (Berry, 1998). The effeminate depiction of A Lan in contrast to the masculine Shi Xiaohua further reinforces the unequal power relationship between the persecuted and the persecutor by ascribing the marginalized homosexual subject a
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