Ma Yihang, PhD Candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Splendid Float (2004) is documentary filmmaker Zero Chou’s first feature-length drama, and Taiwan’s first film drama about drag queens. With Taiwanese folk religion and ordinary peoples’ lives providing a colorful backdrop, Chou combines her concern for gender questions and LGBT issues in a unique and appealing look gender and culture.
Xiao Qiangwei, Splendid Float’s protagonist, is a Taoist priest by day, officiating at funerals, and a drag queen by night, providing entertainment at various functions. One day Qiangwei is called to the seaside, where he has been hired to perform last rites for a drowning victim, only to discover that the deceased is his lover, A-yang. Bound by traditional gender values, Qiangwei cannot reveal his relationship to A-yang during the rite; moreover, he cannot attend the burial as a “surviving spouse.” Grief-stricken, Qiangwei is torn between Taiwanese tradition and devotion to his departed lover. In the end, he reverts to his other identity as a drag queen – then, sumptuously attired, singing and dancing, Qiangwei sees A-yang off on his final journey.
“Boundary crossing” is Splendid Float’s most important feature – the drag queens’ flamboyant costumes and campy onstage banter can be seen as examples of boundary crossing, but even more provocative is their overturning of gender roles and social norms. Funeral rites and drag queen shows can both be viewed as performances – Zero Chou cleverly cuts from lively “soul-guiding songs” – a traditional feature of burial ceremonies in Taiwan – to footage of drag queens singing and dancing onstage, placing the two seemingly conflicting performances side by side, allowing them to meld together in a bid to reconcile traditional norms with modern gender perspectives.
Life and death, day and night, the land and the sea, male and female, tradition and modernity, flamboyance and plainness – Zhou’s distinctive film artistry unfolds within these opposing elements. The “mainstream” LGBT community sometimes excludes cross-dressers and transgender individuals. In addition to standing up for persons of all gender orientations, Zero Chou chooses unique aesthetic ingredients to tell a truly Taiwanese story – alternately boisterous and solemn – of love, death, and gender.
Movie Splendid Float trailer (Source: The 3rd Vision Films)
|Related Literary Themes：||LGBT Literature|