Three Dollar Bill Cinema, Seattle’s very own 28-year-old queer film institution, will present the Seattle Queer Film Festival from Oct. 12 – 22, 2023 around the theme of ‘Queer Joy.’ Below, film reviewer Perry Meas previews several films from the fesitval’s upcoming shorts program Messy, Queer, and Asian, curated by Hannah Baek, which screens at the Northwest Film Forum on Oct. 19, 2023 at 8:00 p.m.

A still from ‘Future Flowers’ (2023) by Hao Zhou • Courtesy

Future Flowers (2023)

At 3:00 p.m., a sharp tone courtesy of the app Future Flowers prods Du to awaken from a long day’s slumber. As he gets ready for the day, the phone app prattles on with strange and intrusive advice. The best way to brush your teeth, how fast or slow to eat breakfast, how to maintain your genital health for the day — he is bombarded with charmingly voiced bromides for strengthening his chances for babymaking. We aren’t shown much about who Du is or what he does and perhaps he’d like to keep it that way. But director Hao Zhou cues us further as Du receives a flirtatious voice message from an unseen lover. Midday, Du meets with his “wife,” Ling, and they discuss their plans to have a baby.

Both Du and Ling live practically separate lives. As Du goes off to work, Ling returns “home” to eat the fertility meal he cooked for her to prepare her for the evening. She, too, is bombarded with messages from Future Flowers. As she prepares to retire for the night, the same constant messages flood her space — smoking is bad for you, standing is bad for you, eat at the correct pace. The platitudes are only interrupted when Ling receives a message from her other lover, a sultry-voiced woman who begs her to return soon. In the dull world of Future Flowers, we learn Du and Ling are linked by a streak of lavender.

We don’t know if everything worked out the morning after, but as Du and Ling’s lives go on, the app becomes even more intrusive and contradictory, telling Du one thing and Ling another. Both consider leaving the app, but in doing so, the little automated voice begins to guilt trip them for abandoning their duty to the nation.

Is it worth it in exchange for some peace and quiet?

Future Flowers echoes growing concerns about China’s declining birthrate and proportionally aging population. Hao centers on two queer people, Du and Ling, caught up in a sham marriage trying to have a baby amidst these developments, all under the auspices of a government-coded family planning phone app.

Hao offers a sarcastic, dry quip about the status of queer people in China today, and the imposing surveillance-like methods for securing social harmony, productivity, and stable birth rates. It reflects a deeper cynicism about Chinese society. However, the critique and symbolism in Future Flowers can be a little too on the nose.

The “big brother-esque” Future Flowers app is wacky and entertaining, but I feel it oversimplifies deeper historical issues that deserve more attention; a characteristic of a lot of dystopian fiction. It is in this way that Future Flowers somewhat loses its edge.

I was intrigued by the slice-of-life dilemma of Du and Ling and their closeted, seemingly mundane lives. Hao’s cinematography effectively captures the cold, disorienting, and lonesome environment the two experience. 

A still from ‘Confusion in the Afternoon’ (2023) by Lee Yung-ChiehCourtesy

Confusion in the Afternoon (2023)

On a fleeting afternoon at the end of the school day, a boy crushes on his classmate over a card game. He is nervous; he can’t help but to look up at his tall, athletic friend. Just as they are about to reach for the pile, their hands collide, snap! and the boy feels his affections gushing faster than the cards can riffle.

During his turn to shuffle, the boy’s imagination takes him on a world’s-worth of a daydream through his feelings for the classmate across from him.

His fantasies sweep across romantic vignettes in vibrant watercolor and gouache. He pictures an entire future together with his friend — so relatable to any young person feeling love for the first time. He wonders if his daydream will become reality as he prepares to make his next move.

Director Lee Yung-Chieh stuns with the fluidly changing animation set to a befitting tango motif. The use of multiple mediums is impressive: combining stop-motion paper dolls with painted cartoons. The colors and brushstrokes are reminiscent impressionist paintings, capturing the feelings of young love in rapid, free movement. 

Time slows as we follow the boy’s thoughts. For being less than 3-minutes-long, a lot of heart is packed in this tender, gentle short; not at all dissimilar when time seems to stop in the fleeting moments of being in-love. 

A still from ‘Mooncake’ (2022) by Rraine Hanson • Courtesy

Mooncake (2022)

In Mooncake, a young non-binary person cycles their way through Manhattan’s Chinatown to pick up mooncakes. Headphones on, they pedal along to a stream of consciousness, taking in the scenes and smells of the community. When they arrive at the bakery, something seems familiar about an older woman exiting the door. While waiting to order, they can’t stop thinking about her. Just what was it about that woman?

Mooncake’s bustling urban life-on-the-street tone then shifts to something much more personal and intimate. The inescapable thoughts drag them down a surreal ride down memory lane, all the way back to rural China, to the time they realized they were queer. It turns out, one of the first women they obsessed over was their middle school English teacher.

The young person recalls projecting all sorts of fantasies and fantastical moments with the teacher, and Director Rraine Hanson makes use of all sorts of visual metaphor to portray this experience. But at one point, the idea of the teacher begins to assert her own agency in the situation, catching the young person in an emotional swirl.

Mooncake opens strong with a fascinating mix of shifting montage spliced into still images. At first, my impression was that this story was going to be primarily set in Chinatown. But the concept shifted to a different kind of avant garde when the main character revisits their past memories. Hanson uses an array of visual styles and effects to show the young person’s eccentric feelings playing out. It’s whimsical and interesting.

In the later half, I was not sure where the short was taking us. We don’t know how the young person resolves their feelings, or where that leaves them now. Mooncake left me with unanswered questions. However, that is not to say it’s not a visual treat — one with a nugget of savory goodness in the center, even if the component parts are limited.

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