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Short Film Explores Family and Gender Identity in China

‘Drifting’ gives audiences a moving and insightful look at China’s one-child policy.

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‘Drifting’ director Hanxiong Bo (Linkedin)

From music to painting, Hanxiong Bo was involved in the arts from a young age. But the medium he loved the most was filmmaking, and that passion drove him to the United States to find his voice as a director. His journey also provided the inspiration for his short film Drifting

“My time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and at the University of California, Los Angeles, made me consider what stories I wanted to tell,” Bo explains. “I realized I wanted to write films about relationships, family, my life, and themes worth telling.” The Los Angeles-based director’s short film debuted at the 2019 San Sebastián International Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Best Short Film Award. 

Drifting follows a young couple’s second child who was born before China’s one-child policy was relaxed in 2013. The 16-minute film focuses on family, gender identity, and societal expectations as the teenager wrestles with his gender identity amid intolerance from his peers and parents. 

Through creative, eye-catching, and at times surreal shots, Drifting seeks to uplift and inspire all audiences. Learn more about Bo, his short film, and his love of filmmaking in OutSmart’s Q&A with the filmmaker below.

Lillian Hoang: What inspired you to write Drifting?
Hanxiong Bo: I wanted this story to be personal, about family and kids who struggle in a society influenced by China’s one-child policy. I heard about this young man who dressed as a girl growing up because of the policy, and who later struggled with his gender identity. So I wrote Drifting because I come from the same kind of family and society that the main character comes from. I also felt that the single-child policy in China creates a lot of identity struggles, not only with gender but also with interpersonal relationships, a theme I’m interested in.

I understand this film was also inspired by an event that happened in your own past. Could you tell me more about that?
I was in China for a vacation before I wrote this story. At the time, my parents took me to a private basketball court in Beijing where half of the court was for basketball and the other half was for badminton. My parents played badminton while I played basketball with some of the people who were already there. During the basketball game, I got into a fight, and the basketball teammates circled and jumped on me. My parents saw it, and they jumped into the circle and tried to fight the other people with me. I feature a similar scene in the film.

How did this moment in your past influence the film?
When the fight happened, I wasn’t in a good relationship with my parents. But I realized [in that moment] that I wanted to tell stories about family. We don’t say things like “I love you” in China, but in certain circumstances, your family will still stand up for you. That was the inspiration for me to make a film like Drifting

How are themes about family, gender identity, and societal expectations significant?
There are many stories in China about a father abandoning his family because his child is a member of the LGBTQ community. I’m trying to [portray] that experience in a more positive way. The film is a chance for people to understand a teenager’s struggles, experience and appreciate what their children are going through. 

How do you hope audiences will react to the film?
I wrote the film for the younger generation. I hope, after watching the film, they will feel free, positive, and have hope. I want the younger generation to understand that their family, whether blood-related or not, is there to support them. 

How is the act of drifting important to the film?
Drifting is about control and the lack of control. At first, the characters in the film are drifting back and forth. The main character is struggling with his gender identity, and the family is drifting apart. Then the family reunites, but their lives undergo a drastic change. Drifting is a metaphor for the film. 

How is this short different from your other works?
I embraced the filmmaking process a little more on Drifting. I didn’t “lock everything down” [like directors usually do]. I didn’t lock down the main protagonist’s character until I found the actor. I incorporated a lot of his own experiences and struggles into his character. As for the filmmaking, I didn’t lock down what the people should do or where the camera should go. I just went with the scene and embraced what happened.

What is your goal as a director?
I want to tell a moving story. Whether or not it’s positive, I want to tell a story about relationships and love—the connections between people. I hope to share these experiences since they’re important to me.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a feature film, and this time the story is set in the U.S. and is partially inspired by my own experience here. The film is about interracial love and how society reacts to that.

Where can people find your short film Drifting?
The film will have a physical screening in June at the Hong Kong Arthouse Film Festival. Due to the pandemic, most festivals are postponed, so I think they will have online showcases. People can stay up-to-date on the film’s screenings and where they can watch it by following the film’s Facebook page, facebook.com/driftingpiaoliu/

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Lillian Hoang

Lillian is a spring 2020 intern for OutSmart magazine and a journalism major at the University of Houston. She is minoring in Asian American studies and also works as a College of Education communication assistant. She has interned at the Houston Chronicle and hopes to become an editor-in-chief.

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