SOME WOMEN – Review by Jennifer Green

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In Some Women, Quen Wong — called Singapore’s first trans woman feature documentary maker — invites us into her life and narrates her journey from boy to woman. She interviews other trans women in conservative Singapore and delves into her own family’s reactions to her transition. It’s an engaging and congenial film, not least due to Wong’s erudite voiceover narration. Some Women has its west Canada premiere this week at the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (VIWFF), which runs Tuesday through Saturday.

Some storytellers follow the motto, “Show, don’t tell.” Wong does both with Some Women. She shows us her family life and tells us in voiceover about the various steps that got her to where she is today. She peppers her speech with declarations of self-love like “I am worthy of love,” “This is who I am,” and “My identity is determined by the act of living.” She is very open about her feelings as a child that she was in the wrong body, her first loves, the complicated conversations with potential lovers – including her current partner – about her body, and the process of reassignment surgery and hormone therapy.

Wong also contextualizes her own transition within conservative Singaporean society, a place where her mother was advised by her own mother to marry a man who wouldn’t beat her, and where people used to come from all over the world to a transvestite haven called Bugis Street. Wong interviews former Bugis Street regulars, calling them “survivors” and “pioneers” who didn’t have other options in their day if they wanted to be their authentic selves. She interviews other trans women of various ages about their identities and sexualities, showing there’s no single trans experience.

Her family members are also protagonists. Her father admits how hard it was for him to accept his son becoming female, yet how grateful he is for the daughter he has today. Her soon-to-be husband nearly weeps looking at pictures of Wong as a teen boy, a revisiting of the past it took Wong decades to work up the courage to do. Candid scenes of the couple in bed together show a tender intimacy.

The film can sometimes feel overly didactic, the sound gets muffled at times and the cinematography doesn’t have any particular visual appeal. But Wong consistently comes across as authentic, earnest and thoughtful. Her individual story is universal in its own way. As she puts it, her identity “is determined by the act of living,” a truth for every person.

Some Women is one of 37 feature films from 14 countries competing in the main competition of this year’s VIWFF, which returns to an in-person format. The opening night film is Jules Koostachin’s Broken Angel, the story of an Indigenous woman and “seer” who escapes an abusive relationship with her teenage daughter. The closing night film is Stellar from director Darlene Naponse, starring Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Night Raiders).

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Jennifer Green

Jennifer Green is a regular contributor to Common Sense Media, The Hollywood Reporter, The Seattle Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was Screen International's correspondent in Spain for ten years. She launched the newspaper column and website Films from Afar to curate international films available for home streaming. She has served on film festival juries across Spain and North Africa and teaches journalism and film to university students.