Peafowl (공작새, Byun Sung-bin, 2022)

A trans woman begins to step into herself after reclaiming her traditional culture to make peace with the past in Byun Sung-bin’s poignant indie drama, Peafowl (공작새, Gongjaksae). At once situating itself in the heartland of a society struggling to adapt to the pace of change, the film suggests that only by reintegrating her Koreanness can the heroine become fully herself even as the spirit of the father who rejected her softly tells her to dance her dance.

Myung (Choi Hae-jun), whose name as she later says means “not too light not too dark”, is a trans woman living in Seoul hoping to earn a large amount of money to pay for her surgery through winning a waacking dance competition. Shortly before she performs, she receives an unsettling telephone call and narrowly loses the dance off against a Taiwanese competitor while a judge explains that she lacks a colour of her own. It’s then that a childhood friend, Woo-gi (Kim Woo-kyum), contacts her to let her know that her estranged father Duk-gil (Ki Joo-bong) has passed away and asks her to come to the funeral. Myung first says she won’t go, but later does only to be berated by her overbearing, conservative uncle who ironically causes a scene by loudly exclaiming that a man shouldn’t be going around with long hair or wearing makeup. He even introduces her as Duk-gil’s son to an older relative who is otherwise much more sympathetic and even asks her with surprise why she’s wearing a male mourning outfit rather than the more appropriate one for women. 

It’s the uncle, a symbol of oppressive middle-aged patriarchal power, that is the real problem. Most other people are either broadly supportive or too polite to say anything of Myung’s changed appearance while her teenage nephew Bo-suk (Go Jae-hyun) simply accepts her and quickly refers to Myung as “sis” despite his mother’s obvious discomfort. It is however the uncle who is in charge, continuing to misgender and insult Myung especially once Woo-gi reveals that it was Duk-gil’s dying wish for Myung to lead the funerary rites at his 49th day memorial service. Myung doesn’t really want to participate but is tempted after Woo-gi suggests there’s a sizeable inheritance to be had if she agrees. 

It’s clear that Myung had good reason to resent her father, holding up her hand and revealing a large burn scar she’s since had tattooed with with a beautiful peacock feather. The feather motif is repeated throughout as a kind of symbol of Myung’s hidden beauty which she will eventually learn to reveal through the fusion of the traditional art of shamanistic ritual and her contemporary waacker dance moves, yet it’s also linked to the image of her father as a man she never understood and may never have really known whose relationship with her was shaped by the legacy of homophobic prejudice in ways she could never have imagined. The truth that she discovers reminds her that there have always been people like her even within this very “traditional” society, while the twin revelation that her cousin is gay and struggling in many of the same ways she has proves there always will be. As Woo-gi reminds her, her grandfather’s tree looks like it’s dead but is kept alive by its connections with others much like people are, pointing out that rituals accept everyone without prejudice or exception. 

Only after making peace with her conflicted aunt and showing her overbearing uncle the error of his ways can Myung begin to reclaim herself in reintegrating her traditional culture to gain the colour she was lacking and become fully herself as she performs the ritual along with a waacker dance that quite literally sets fire to the oppressive quality of tradition as mediated by men like her uncle who weaponise it to preserve their own privilege. Shot in classic 4:3, Byun neatly contrasts the vibrancy of Seoul nightlife with the oppressive dullness of life in the village, but also highlights the various similarities in the colour and noise of a shamanistic ceremony which as Myung discovers moves to a beat not dissimilar to waacker as she watches her friends dance in a club with the movements of traditional shamanism. In a way, Myung does indeed burn it all down but does so positively, finally coming to an understanding of her father and her history while reclaiming her traditional culture along with the right to do with it whatever she wishes.

Peafowl screened as part of BFI Flare 2023. It will also be screening at Genesis Cinema, London on April 20 as part of this year’s Queer East.

Trailer (English subtitles)

Queer East Film Festival Reveals Full 2023 Programme

Queer East returns to cinemas across London 18th to 30th April with another handpicked selection of LGBTQ+ films from Asia. This year’s edition has a special focus on Korea including a series of films spanning from the 1960s to the present day and will also feature screenings of classics The Love Eterne and Rebels of the Neon God. Opening with Philippine comedy I Love You, Beksman, the festival will close with Home Ground, a documentary focussing on the first openly lesbian bar in Korea which opened in the 1990s.


  • Lotus Sports Club – documentary filmed over five years following a trans man in his 60s who formed a football team for LGBTQ+ youth.


  • Bad Women of China – He Xiaopei’s personal documentary explores the lives of Chinese women from the 1920s to the present day through the stories of herself, her mother, and her daughter.

Hong Kong

  • The Love Eterne – classic Mandarin-language Shaw Brothers musical directed by the legendary Li Han-Hsiang and starring Betty Loh Ti as a young woman who dresses as a boy in order to pursue education and meets a dashing scholar with whom she falls in love (Ivy Ling Po).


  • Let Me Hear It Barefoot – two alienated young men struggle to identify their feelings while searching for escape from moribund small-town Japan in Riho Kudo’s indie drama. Review.



  • About Us But Not About Us – experimental mystery drama in which a student’s dinner with a professor takes an unexpected turn.
  • I Love You, Beksman – comedy starring Christian Bables (Big Night!) as a hairdresser everyone assumes to be gay until he falls for a beauty queen.

South Korea

  • Home Ground – documentary focussing on the first openly lesbian bar in Korea.
  • House of Hummingbird – coming of age drama set in 1994 in which a lonely teenage girl develops a fondness for her enigmatic Chinese teacher. Review.
  • King and the Clown – 2005 drama in which a pair of street performers become embroiled in dangerous intrigue. Screening on 35mm.
  • A Man and a Gisaeng – 1969 comedy in which an office worker is fired for being unmanly and finds a new line of work as a gisaeng only to be courted by the very boss who fired him.
  • Memento Mori – classic millennial horror in which a high school girl discovers a forbidden romance after reading a schoolmate’s diary.
  • Peafowl – drama following a trans woman who is tasked with performing the memorial dance at her estranged father’s funeral.
  • Sa Bangji – 1989 period drama in which an intersex person living in a temple draws dangerously close to a widow in mourning.
  • Stateless Things – festival favourite from 2011 following a North Korean refugee and a young gay man financially dependent on his older lover.


  • Rebels of the Neon God – classic from Tsai Ming-Liang following alienated teenager Hsiao Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) and petty delinquent Ah-Tze in a changing Taipei.


In Between Seasons

  • Boy Queen (Dir. Sai Nyi Min Htut, Myanmar, Germany, 2021)
  • Seance of the Past (Dir. Adelaide Sherry, Singapore, 2022)
  • Truthless (Dir. Zhao Badou, China, 2021)
  • Memori Dia (Dir. Asarela Orchidia Dewi, Indonesia, Germany, 2022)
  • Tank Fairy (Dir. Erich Rettstadt, Taiwan, US, 2022)

All About My Mother

  • Will You Look at Me (Dir. Huang Shuli, China, 2022)
  • Skin Can Breathe (Dir. Chheangkea, US, Cambodia, 2022)
  • Fictions (Dir. Alice Charlie Liu, Canada, 2022)
  • Rising Sun (Dir. Cheng Ya-chih, Taiwan, 2018)
  • Fishbowl (Dir. Jacqueline Chan, US, 2021)
  • A Good Mother (Dir. Lee Yu-jin, South Korea, 2022)

A Kind of Queer Utopia

  • Strangers in Paradise (Dir. Huang Yihong, China, 2022)
  • Adju (Dir. Elvis A-Liang Lu, Taiwan, 2021)
  • Leo & Nymphia (Dir. Pan Hsin-An, Taiwan, 2021)
  • The Choir of our Kind (Dir. Xu Zai, Wang Sisi, China, 2021)

First Times

  • The Voice (Dir. Maral Ayurzana, Mongolia, 2022)
  • Swimming in the Dark (Dir. Chen Pin-Ru, Taiwan, 2022)
  • I get so sad sometimes (Dir. Trishtan Perez, Philippines, 2021)
  • Rooted (Dir. Wu Yi-Wei, Taiwan, 2022)
  • We Were Never Really Strangers (Dir. Patrick Pangan, Philippines, 2022)

Queer Korea: A Mixtape

  • Ice (Dir. Lee Seongpwook, South Korea, 2019)
  • Cicada (Dir. Yoon Dae-woen, South Korea, 2021)
  • Butch Up! (Dir. Lee Yu-jin, South Korea, 2022)
  • Don’t worry (Dir. Kim Tae-yong, South Korea, 2022)
  • How Do I Kill That B? – (Seo Ji-hwan, South Korea, 2022)

Dance Performances

Artists’ Moving Image Programmes

Alien Body, Human Dreams

  • to boyhood, i never knew him (Dir. Trâm Anh Nguyễn, Vietnam & Canada, 2022)
  • Longing for the Sun to Set Upwards (Dir. Jao San Pedro, Philippines, 2022)
  • Native beast (Dir. Aileen Ye, Netherlands, 2022)
  • Disease of Manifestation (Dir. Tzu An Wu, Taiwan, 2011)
  • Yummy Body Truck (Dir. Noam Youngrak Son, Netherlands, 2021)
  • BXBY (Dir. Soojin Chang, UK, 2022)
  • Garden Amidst the Flame (Natasha Tontey, Indonesia, 2022)

Wayward Fruits

  • Dikit (Dir. Gabriela Serrano, 2021)
  • out in the world (Dir. Bart Seng Wen Long, 2022)
  • Boy-Taste (Dir. Michio Okabe, 1973)
  • I shudder with pleasure that at last the time has come (Dir. Mari Terashima, 2022)
  • Sexy Sushi (Dir. Calleen Koh, 2021)
  • Super Taboo (Dir. Su Hui Yu, 2017)

Queer East runs 18th to 30th April at venues across Central London while a selection of films will also tour to venues around the UK in the autumn. Full details for all the films as well as ticketing links can be found on the official website, while you can also keep up with all the latest news by following Queer East on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube.