In the first 10 minutes of Born to Be Human, the protagonist Yang Shi-nan pleasures himself to the sight of a naked woman, suffers PMS and has his first period. Written and directed by Lily Ni, the film explores what happens when, without his knowledge or input, Yang’s parents choose to have him undergo gender-reassignment surgery to remove his male organs and make him female.
Ni’s cinematography resides firmly in the world of body horror, though what Yang experiences is much more gender role horror. Prior to his surgery, Yang identified firmly as a cis male, his primary hobbies being violent video games and obsessing over pornography. After his surgery, his parents, seeming to mean well, torture him by trying to “help” him identify as female: his room is all pinks and plush animals, and for his birthday he is gifted a princess cake and a doll.
I found this movie moving, but also unsettling in the realism of the character’s struggles. The abuse he suffers as someone who is non-binary are all too real for many. Highly recommended.
If you’ve ever wondered if it’s possible for anyone to offer anything fresh in the world of boy/girl body swaps, 30 Rojullo Preminchadam Ela, answers that question with a definitive yes. The film stands out both for the grand scope of the story (over 2 hours) as well as the commitment to storytelling. Oh, and there are also some new things in terms of the body swap evolution as well.
The film has three distinct act, each wth a different tone, which all build on each other. In the first section, we meet the young couple in the year 1947. They live in a small, country village and we see their carefree courtship amid gorgeous, golden scenery. Their loves ends in tragedy and anger.
The second act takes place in modern times. The doomed lovers have been reincarnated, and– no, they are not swapped yet. He is he and she is she. But, the bitterness and anger of their previous lives carries over, as when they meet on a college campus, there is instant recognition and revulsion. For a time, we see their characters and relationships develop. She is a serious student, a somewhat feminist and yet also dedicated to tradition. He is somewhat sexist, a jock who uses women. There is an amusing battle of the sexes dance number, made more amusing to me by the fact I know they will soon be in each other’s bodies.
So far, it seems like pretty much any body swap movie, plus dancing. And, in fact, that continues for awhile starting with a “If I were you” argument that ends up with them in each other’s bodies. There are two rules for them to get back to their own bodies. First, they can tell no one their real names. They must pretend to be each other. Second, they must return to the shrine in 30 Days.
Which is exactly when it starts to seem like this will be just another body swap movie. In fact, for a time it seems like a remake of It’s a Boy Girl Thing. How much does it resemble BG Thing? They live right next door to each other and are able to spy on each other’s hijinx. Some fun scenes include Arjoon (the guy) coming out of the shower in only a towel, and Akshara, seeing him, being horrified to realize he has “seen everything.” Arjun also immediately seems to revel in the opportunity to play the female, dressing sexy right away, flirting and seeming to revel in the attention. Akshara becomes enraged, and they begin to try and sabotage each other’s reputations (sound familiar) including some fun scenes where Jaroon, as Ashara, tries to seduce and sweet talk his old girlfriend, and later seems like he is going to sleep with his friend (a lowly nerd).
This was all fun, especially seeing Arjun wearing cute clothes and being all slutty. Yet, it is the third act where things get really interesting and which separate this film from so many others. When the 30th day comes, the characters go the shrine, but the seer who said he could switch them back has died. They are told now, that the only way to change back is to fall in love.
So, now they are stuck as each other, and their attempts to fake falling in love, including a very awkward kiss, fail. Which is when things go deep. Akshkara’s sister goes into labor. Since her husband is out of town, Arjun ends up being forced to be with her as she gives birth, holding her hand, telling her to breath. He does not want to do it, and we see that, in fact, Akshkara, in his body, is told to leave the room as it is considered improper for a man to be in the room.
The baby is handed to Arjun to hold, and as he holds the newborn baby, the doctor who delivered it tells him, “there were two births today.” She goes on to explain that when a woman has her first baby, she is reborn as a mother.
The experience jolts Arjun, who has previously stated he hates girls. He thinks of how cruel and unloving he has been to his own mother. Tears running down his cheeks, he runs through the rain to throw his arms around his mother and tell her how much he loves her.
Arjun is transformed. Now identifying with his mother, he has another tearful encounter with Akshara. She asks him why he is crying like a girl. “I am Akshara now,” he says, and they shake hands. Jarun now dedicates himself to becoming Akshara. He dresses like her, acts like her. We see the two of them hanging out doing date things much like they did in their past lives, and Arjun is sweet and feminine. His transformation seems complete to the point that at one point he yells “I need my sister!” Referring to Ashkara’s sister, the one who had the baby.
And we do get to see Arjun in formal dress, fully made up, looking radiant and proud when Ashkara, still in his body gazes at him in wonder.
The story climaxes when Akshara, trying to be Arjun, attempts to fight as a kick boxer. We see Arjun, the frought and worried female, running about in his dress, trying to end the fight the fight before Ashkara gets hurt. She, determined to play his role, refuses to stop though she is being badly beaten.
And what happens next is—- you’ll have to watch the movie!
One final note. I thought the main two actors did very well, especially as they performed in three different styles. Both played the light comedy nicely, but also tremendous emotion for the dramatic scenes. I also liked the script very much, as so much of what happens early builds to dramatic impact when we see what happens later.
Every morning when Woo-Jin wakes up, he finds he has transformed into a completely different person– he may wake up as any gender, age or ethnicity. When the film The Beauty Inside begins, we find him at a place in his life where he has fallen into a routine, working for himself, living largely in isolation and just making the best of his situation.
Of course, that would not be much of a movie, so he soon falls in love with the beautiful Yi-soo, and begins to pursue her though she, at first, has no idea the various people who come into her store are all the same admirer. Finally, he asks her out to dinner, and as the two fall in love he is forced to risk telling her the truth about who he is and how he changes all the time into new people.
Without going any more into the plot, let me say this is a first rate Korean Romance. It’s billed as a rom-com, but it really lives much more in the world of drama, with beautiful cinematography, poetic scenes and heart-wrenching emotions as the two struggle to make their impossible relationship work.
The main character spends a fair amount of time as a female, and some of the most poignant and heart felt scenes occur when he is female and opening up to Yi-soo. For fans of TG elements, there are a few sweet moments: getting hit on by his male friend, shopping for his first bra and being so nervous and self-conscious he ends up running from the store, having a “mother daughter” tea with his Mom. One little detail I enjoyed was that as a female, he is often shorter than his girlfriend, and it seems like he is the femme in their relationship at some times.
Drew survives by stealing other people’s bodies. He absorbs their essence, leaving them as lifeless husks, while he comes to not only look like them, but to absorb their memories and experiences.
The writer/director Justin McConnell does not lack ambition, producing a script and a movie that explores what such a life would do to a person, and how they would need to function to survive. I applaud the effort, especially the shots the creator takes to use the premise to examine the human condition, culminating in a poetic monologue by the main character at the end of the film, about which I will say nothing so as to avoid spoilers.
Now, as for the gender bender elements, which I will confess largely fuels my interest in these types of films, there isn’t much to savor. Mostly this results from the fact that the we enter this character’s story after he has been jumping from body to body for decades; he’s been women many times, so when he jumps into female bodies it’s just old hat for him. Had this been a first, some scenes might have popped more for me as a viewer who loves seeing gender roles reversed; for example, he gets hit on by a guy at a bar, but it isn’t the first time for him, so the usual fun of seeing a guy have to deal with being treated like a girl is blunted. The scenes reads like any girl getting hit on by any random guy.
As per my comments above, just as a movie looking to say somethings about life, it’s watchable with excellent performances from the cast and professional if workmanlike camera work and production. It’s getting some buzz on the sci/fi circuit, and has found an audience, so worth checking out, but if you are seeking a deeper look at the gender issues you will probably leave feeling unsatisfied. If you just want to experience an interesting and thought provoking film, it’s an absolute yes.
Sadistic and cruel, the Wild Boys live only for art and pleasure. Constantly in trouble for rebellious acts of defiance and disrespect, they finally take it too far when they commit a particularly heinous crime against a woman. Enter The Captain, a cruel and lumbering Dutchmen known to be able to turn wild young men into docile persons.
As it turns out, The Captain’s method involves a great deal of abuse as well as exposing the boys to the juices of a mysterious, phallic fruit which ultimately transforms them into women. The movie takes awhile to get to the actual transformation, which begin with the boys experiencing haunting, erotic dreams, progresses to them becoming infatuated with each other and then rapidly moves through their voices changing to girl’s voices, the blossoming of breasts and then ultimately the loss of their manhood. There is nudity.
It’s a surreal, arty French film with a lot of Freudian imagery, but moves along well and uses the dream-like qualities of the production to great advantage. The boys are all played by young women, who are extremely good at portraying young men, and then equally fascinating in their female forms. The performances stand out as each is a skilled and professional actor, and the direction and cinematography are first rate as well.
There is a little strain of Femdom in the film as well, as the mysterious Severin, who runs the islands, explains that she has a plan to feminize the world as she feels it will be a more peaceful and harmonious place– a theory which the movie seems to refute.
It’s a worthy watch and one I will look over again. My only regret is we never get to see them back in civilization living as women, but then again, maybe there will be a sequel?
You can find all the links on Amazon to stream or buy!
A group of arrogant boys commits a terrible crime. As punishment, they are sent to a mysterious island where they are transformed into girls. It may sound like the plot of an old school TG story, but it is actually the plot of a new TG film from director Bertrand Mandico.
One of the excellent decisions the director made was to cast female actors to play the boys before, during and after transition. The reviews I read have lauded these performers, and based on the trailer they did very well. The film has the look and feel of a fever dream, the images taken directly from the seething cauldron of the unconscious. There are screening dates set across the US for this summer and fall, and you can find them as well as links to buy tickets HERE
For non-US or if you live too far away from those locations, it is going to be streaming on a service called Mubi, and, of course, you can check European and French distributers for details.
In the future, you are not your body; you are data. And, in this future world, corporations and governments can strip your data from one human body (called a sleeve) and place it in another, or even just store you indefinitely as information either with consciousness or within a simulated world. This is the SCIFI basis of Altered Carbon, the name of both a book and a TV series.
Obviously, this opens up a lot of possibilities for gender swapping and exploration. In the book and in the movie, it is clear that the main character, who identifies as male and embodies the tough guy investigator type (Deckard in Blade Runner, Mike Hammer in Mickey Spillane novels…etc…) has spent some time in female sleeves. He mentions it in the book, and in the show when people scan his ID, all his former identities come up, and several are clearly female.
Unfortunately, neither the book nor the TV show delve too deeply into the gender games. For those who enjoy the much more rare female to male swap, there is a fun sequence where a main character, Kristin Ortega, brings her grandmother back in the body of a hulking, tattooed and very male goon in order to celebrate El dia de los Muertos. The actor does not over play the feminine mannerisms, and is actually very good at embodying a grandmother enjoying spending a holiday with her family.
All of the characters we meet seem to identify as straight male or female regardless of their sleeve’s sex, and there is little sense that the body swapping has led to any major changes in society in terms of how people perceive male and female. It largely reflects our mainstream world with a SCIFI filter. However, there is some interesting action, and the little taste of gender bending that’s there was enough to fire up my imagination.
Another Netflix series based on a novel that gets into some gender bending is Kiss Me First.
Kiss Me First follows a young woman who spends a great deal of her time in a virtual reality game, using the name Shadowfax. This show delves into identity more intentionally than AC, and without giving away too much I will reveal that there is a character in the virtual world who is not what she seems! We also have characters logging in as other people, and lots of questions about what’s real and what isn’t. I would love to see more gender stuff in future installments, but again what is there and what is potentially there got my imagination working.
Lastly, a more straight up gender bending French film called I am Not an Easy Man. In this film, like Second Nature, a chauvinistic male finds himself transported to a mirror universe where gender roles are revered. Women are the aggressors, and they hold most of the money and the power. Men are expected to do their best to look attractive for the women and are viewed as the lesser sex. It’s a fun and interesting take on the usual story as the man finds himself struggling to deal with being objectified …etc… and there is a little body image stuff as at one point he contemplated putting inserts into his underwear to give himself a bigger butt. The acting is all good, and the film does make some nice observations about gender and politics.
Check them out and let me know what you think! I get lonely out here in my virtual world and would love to hear from you! Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to brush your teeth!
In this corner, Meghan Shull’s young adult novel, The Swap. In that corner, Disney Channel’s movie length adaptation. Which will emerge as the true champion? Ring the bell and let the battle begin.
Both the book and the film are PG, and both of them artfully dodge anything that a family or young person might find creepy or weird. For example, in the book Jack, in Ellie’s body, refuses to undress for his physical because he knows it would be wrong for a boy to see a girl naked. In the movie, when Ellie’s mother induces him to take a bubble bath, he wears a bathing suit.
The story focuses mainly on the characters and their relationships. Jack has a strict, military father and three rough-housing older brothers. The father is cold and distant, and he pushed his sons to extreme physical fitness and competitiveness. When Ellie finds herself suddenly in his body and life, she has to adjust to being yelled at, wrestled with by half-naked boys (all of whom she finds very attractive, something she must hide since she is in the body of a boy and a younger brother.) She also has to experience other embarrassing moments, like waking up with morning wood. We learn that one reason for this testosterone driven dude life is that his mother died a year ago.
Jack, on the other hand, finds himself living a life of luxury and ease as a girl. He has a big, fluffy, comfortable bed, a loving mom who is full of hugs, encouragement and understanding, and even makes pancakes for him just about ever morning. Jack, though, shies away from this mother’s attempts to be close, and his further horrified when both his mother and his doctor want to talk to him about his impending menstrual cycles and graduation into womanhood. In addition, he now finds himself mystified by the female politics of the all-girl world he finds himself in, and as a shy boy who never could talk to girls, it is an extra terrible struggle as he finds himself a girl in a girl’s world. In the book, remember, Jack is now a 12-year old girl, so the all girl social makes sense. It is a little harder to believe in the Disney movie, where they are both sophomores in high-school, but this is a Disney Movie, where even adults never do more than offer each other innocent little pecks.
The movie did a better job creating suspense. In the book, the characters believe they just have to make it through the weekend, so that can find the nurse that switched their bodies and get turned back. The movie made a better choice; the characters have a limited amount of time to earn the right to return to their own bodies, or they will be trapped forever in their new lives. And how can they earn the right to get their own bodies back? Well, Jack has to perform rhythmic gymnastics, wearing full make-up, body glitter and tiny little outfit, gracefully dancing around while twirling a ribbon. Ellie has to dominate other boys in hockey, though she finds a way to use some of her gymnastics skills along the way.
In the end, and stop now to avoid the ultimate spoilers, the book just stops. The characters do what they need to do, and then they just pop back into their bodies. The whole thing about the nurse and getting through the weekend vanishes. In the movie, we get the traditional false ending. The characters fulfill their quests, and then… they don’t change back. They think they have failed, and they both seem resigned to their new lives. Ellie turns to Jack as he stands there in his gymnastics costume, and says, “I am sorry Ellie.” He looks at her in her hockey gear and says, “I am sorry, too, Jack.” I would have liked for more of this section of the film, where the two characters are facing their futures and boy and girl, but it turns out they really needed to deal with their unresolved parental issues. Jack opens up to “his” mom, and they have an emotional moment together, while Ellie stands up to “her” father– and then they are restored.
In the end– sorry– do both. Read the book. See the movie. Both argue for a more genderfluid sense of identity as Jack in some ways makes a better girl than Ellie, and Ellie makes a better guy. Meanwhile, both of them learn that they can indulge in activities that defy norms and actually not only enjoy them but get stronger as Jack learns to enjoy bubble baths, for example, and Ellie starts to thrive in bro-culture.
One regret for me comes from the casting of the movie. Peyton List is taller and actually looks more muscular and athletic than the scrawny actor who plays Jack. List looks like she lifts weights, and has a bigger bicep bulge when she challenges another girl to a fight than we see from Jack, who in the book is very muscular — it would have been interesting for me to see Jack react to the realization that as a girl he actually has more of some of the things guys want– height, muscle– but maybe I will just have to write that book myself!