Popo Fan, a Berlin-based Chinese documentary and short filmmaker uses the medium of film to portray issues of and within the Chinese queer community. A prominent presence in LGBT activism in China, Fan is quite prolific. He not only makes films, but curates queer content at film festivals. He writes about and conducts workshops on LGBT representations in cinema and the politics of queer issues in contemporary China.
However, Fan’s short Beer! Beer! unintentionally raises an important question. Does being an activist, a voice fighting for the rights of a marginalised group using the medium of film, justify one’s lack of talent in filmmaking?
Beer! Beer! runs for 17 minutes, and it is, plainly put, unbearable. Fan takes on scripting, directing and acting duties and none of these elements work. As Tao, a thirty-something man stumbling out drunk from a club, Fan offers himself in generous closeups when a random guy, Sebastian (Marc Philipps), tries to flirt with him. His inability to emote makes for a cringeworthy watch. Beer! Beer! is short, so conversations move quick, ticking off all the mandatory moves in a typical meet cute, but the dialogue is heavy-handed and clunky.
Shots of Berlin at night are generic and infused with a jazz background score but offer some relief from Fan and Phillips’ awkward scenes. The handheld camera staidly follows indie filmmaking rules. When static placed or moved close to the leads, it underlines the overbearing presence of artificiality and discomfort in the body language of the actors in every scenario, be it the episode of the street vendor, just walking and talking, or the drama with the discarded mattress on the street.
Billed as an ‘anti-rom com’, this could have been a sharp, subversive take on the genre, maybe even a fun, irreverent LGBT cinematic voice, but Beer! Beer! is evidence that these are completely beyond Fan. He is no actor, his writing is clichéd and self-conscious, and directing, pedestrian.
Fan’s work is significant in the Chinese LGBT movement. Bringing suppressed groups into the mainstream and desiring for them to be accepted is a worthwhile ambition, but Fan may need to ask himself if this is being realised through his filmmaking, as Beer! Beer! ends up detrimentally doing the opposite.