Amateur comedy opens hearts and minds toward a generally ostracized community
(From left) The three leading actors in "˜My Best Gay Friends,' Ngo Xuan Nhat, Huynh Nguyen Dang Khoa and Tran Nguyen Kim Han
"I will not exchange my son for others," Nguyen Thi Loan Thanh says matter-of-factly.
Thanh's 21 year old son, Tran Nguyen Kim Han is gay, and she accepts him as such. That she publicly declares her acceptance in a supposedly "conservative, traditional society" has as much to do with Han being an ideal son in all "other" aspects as his participation in a comedy series called "My Best Gay Friends" that has become a Youtube sensation in Vietnam.
The first four episodes of the comedy series has been received well by thousands of viewers after they went online on Youtube as well as other social websites.
The 20-minute episodes with English subtitles tell stories of friendship between three young gay men from different backgrounds who share an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City Khoa, who has been sent out by his family to stand on his own feet, Rje, a rice vermicelli seller in the local market, and the mysterious Nhat.
Huynh Nguyen Dang Khoa, a student of the Directing Department at the HCMC Academy of Theater and Cinema, not only plays the leading role of his namesake in the series, but also produces and directs it. Khoa invited his friends, Han, 21, Ngo Xuan Nhat, 19, and others to act in the 15-episode series.
"All of us in the leading roles are gay in real life. We collect and borrow material from daily life to write the script for the film, and hope that people will have a proper, comprehensive and compassionate understanding of homosexuality. They are just normal people, who have their own family, friends, and someone to love," Khoa said.
Khoa also has experience in making video clips for some local singers, while Han is currently doing a make-up course and Nhat is studying graphic design.
"I made it a comedy to entertain people who have too much pressure nowadays," Khoa said.
Khoa's "My Best Gay Friends" is not the first Vietnamese gay film, but it is considered the best made in Vietnam by many, if not most netizens.
"Gay people portrayed in previous Vietnamese films are not real and are just a joke, causing offense and creating misunderstandings in the community. Some film producers and directors without thorough knowledge and understanding about these people have purposely made films with offensive scenes to attract audiences. Some just borrow a certain case or a stereotypical character to add to their film and make it as if the person represents the whole gay community. It's just unfair," said Thao Pham, a Facebook member.
Khoa said the response has largely been very positive, especially from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual people) community. "Many of them have asked to take part in our film," he said.
Thien Quy Oanh, a Youtube member, commented: "I cannot stop laughing. The actors play their roles well and the film itself is as funny as Korean TV series "High Kick." I cannot wait to see next episodes. If it was screened in public, it would be a 'blockbuster'."
"The film features daily activities in markets, apartment buildings, rice noodle stands, café and schools, but the actors act so well and naturally, making the scenes as good as possible. Waiting for the next episodes," said Youtube member gayvn231.
Other viewers were not so impressed.
A netizen whose Youtube nickname is tuankhoa2307, wrote: "I don't care about your sexuality, but honestly, when you work on a film project, you should pay attention to audience's taste, instead of satisfying your desire to be an actor. The film's actors overact and some scenes are not really funny."
What mothers say
The film's popularity has brought their close relatives and friends into the picture.
Thanh, Han's mother, said her son was born gay.
"People themselves want to be either male or female, but my son was born gay and can do nothing to change it. It is ok as long as he is happy and healthy," she said.
She said Han was luckier than others because his relatives and neighbors are very fond of him. Han is a "good boy", always behaves himself, and helps his mother do housework.
"I will not exchange my son for others," Thanh reiterated.
Film director Huynh Nguyen Dang Khoa reviews the script before a shot
However, the film director Dang Khoa's mother Nguyen Thi Be Tu spent days in tears and sorrow on seeing him grow up unlike others. It was hard for her to accept that her son is gay.
"I wished he was a real man and wanted to take him to see experts and hospitals for help. I gradually realized that medicine itself is useless in Khoa's case because it is innate," Tu said, crying. "His fate is pitiful," she added.
Khoa's mother also said that the film has officially made the sexual orientation of the three protagonists public, but added that even without the film, their gestures and behavior would have made people suspect that they were gay.
Unlike Khoa and Han, since the film's online debut on April 8, fatherless Xuan Nhat has been condemned by his neighbors and relatives.
"People keep using bad words, gay-related stories to criticize me. They even openly despise me," said Nhat, who lives with his mother and relatives on his father's side. The relatives now want to kick him out the house because of the film.
Thu Hong, Xuan Nhat's mother, said "it is a terrible feeling to be reprimanded and abandoned by our family.
"I hope community has sympathy toward gay people, stop differentiating them, for they are just ordinary people. Being gay is not a sin, and very few of them are involved in social evils. Most of them are talented, useful people for their communities. Don't be rude and merciless toward them," she pleaded.
"Mothers with gay children should not abandon them, they should give them even more love so that they can grow up normally," she said.
Truong An, a Facebook member, said parents should watch the film and consider they way they treated their children when they first found that they were gay.
"They (the parents) should neither impose their opinion on the children nor try to get them out of their real sexuality, but simply love their children the best way they can."
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