A Feel-Good Story About Two Gay Dads and Their Son

A Review of Swingin' (輕鬆搖擺)

by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Swingin’ 輕鬆搖擺/Facebook

This is a No Man is an Island film review written in collaboration with Cinema Escapist. Keep an eye out for more!

SWINGIN’ (輕鬆搖擺) aims to be a charmful, cute, and playful story, even as it touches on contemporary social issues still debated in Taiwanese society. The short film tells the story of eleven-year-old elementary schooler Qiu Qiu, who has two gay fathers, one of which is his biological father. However, the film focuses more on Qiu Qiu’s relation with his non-biological father, Wu Jia-hao. 

The film effectively details one day in the life of Qiu Qiu and his two fathers, with Jia-hao picking up Qiu Qiu after he gets in trouble for pulling down the skirt of a female classmate. Jia-hao is not pleased by this. Reminded of how he was laughed at as a child for being effeminate by his fellow students, Jia-hao now faces the judgmental gazes of Qiu Qiu’s teachers as an adult. Qiu Qiu suddenly runs off and Jia-hao, upset, goes off to practice trumpet with the jazz quartet he is part of, leaving Qiu Qiu to his own devices.

Photo credit: Swingin’ 輕鬆搖擺/Facebook

While Jia-hao broods over his relation with Qiu Qiu—he is not accepted as Qiu Qiu’s father because he is not his biological father—Qiu Qiu follows Zhen Zhen, the classmate who egged him on to pull down the skirt of their female classmate. Qiu Qiu and Zhen Zhen first tussle, but eventually make up, and Jia-hao eventually makes up his mind to track down Qiu Qiu. 

The story is a simple one; of a fight between parent and child and their eventual reconciliation. Swingin’ succeeds in several aspects. First is featuring the natural beauty of Kaohsiung, where the film is set. The short’s coloration is a stand-out and the wardrobe of the characters cleverly matches the tone and mise-en-scene of the film. 

Qiu Qiu, played by Liu Yi-qiao, is a standout role and effectively carries the film. Liu, who also recently starred in The Magician on the Skywalk, is very clearly one of Taiwan’s most effective child actors, even if he seems to be often cast in similar roles. 

Where the Swingin’ does not succeed, however, is that it tonally falls short of its aims, probably due to a weak script. 

The film is not exactly meant to be realistic. It is unlikely that elementary schoolers would openly laugh at an adult to their face—even a gay adult—in the manner depicted in the film. Qiu Qiu and Zhen Zhen’s antics are meant to be cartoonishly amusing to the audience, even if improbable, while Jia-hao’s jazz accompaniment is supposed to add stylistic pizazz to the film by introducing elements of montage that lend to a dreamlike atmosphere. 

With its clean, simple resolution, the film is clearly meant to be “comedy”—in the sense of a story that has a happy ending. But Swingin’ hopes to address otherwise serious issues. This includes the bullying of gay children—it is suggested near the end of the film that Qiu Qiu, like his parents, could also be gay. Gay parenting is the other social issue that comes up in the short, as also touched upon in 2018’s Dear EX, in which the son of a deceased gay man who was mostly closeted in life finds an unexpected father/uncle figure in his father’s former boyfriend. 


Photo credit: Swingin’ 輕鬆搖擺/Facebook

But Swingin’ struggles to fit so many elements into just over twenty minutes, resulting in many aspects of the film remaining underdeveloped. The short has to be fast-paced and quick as a result—which is not necessarily a flaw and sometimes is to the film’s stylistic benefit. Nevertheless, Qiu Qiu’s parents remain half-baked as characters. We learn very little about Jia-hao besides that he was bullied when young for being effeminate and that, apart from being gay, that he plays the trumpet. Qiu Qiu himself fails to develop as a character with any sense of interiority or depth, much as how other roles played by Liu Yi-qiao criminally under-utilize someone who shows a great deal of promise as an actor. 

The film does not strike as particularly innovative in its humor, simply relying on comic gags from its underdeveloped characters, or hoping that the audience finds Qiu Qiu’s antics to be cute. Still, in the end, Swingin’ is not a particularly good or bad movie, just somewhere in the middle.