After Gatsby and the Wolf, the spirit-lifting love story of a Hong Kong tycoon’s lesbian daughter, Gigi Chao (the name is just right), would make the perfect closing to a Money Trilogy. Hollywood seems to have got to it already. But apart from the ever-so-21st-century, queer-exotic mix of Disney and Wong Kar Wai, there is a touch of something darker and more timeless — something Grimmly fairytale-like — about a mythically rich and tyrannical father announcing an astronomical reward for the man who wins his daughter’s mysteriously defiant heart. There is, again, in this the perfect mix of magical lucre and fairytale numerology: the father’s 10,000 girlfriends, his love of Rolls Royces, his desperate doubling of the reward, the girl being one of three children by three different women, her eloping to Paris, her Maggie Cheung-meets-Cordelia beauty, and finally, and most thrillingly, her Portia-like riposte to her father: “I think I’ll marry a man when he marries a man.” (“And what if he does, just to put her in a spot?” a wayward screenplay-writer might wonder, suddenly turning Disney into Almodóvar.)
Yet, as the Grimm brothers knew, the best fairytales are built around a core of the real and the true — usually the grimly true. At the heart of Gigi’s story is the pathetically self-deluding, but potentially destructive, force of parental — especially paternal — best intentions, which try to close the gap between possessiveness and proprietorship through the power of money. Shakespeare touched such a core of the real when he made Shylock rage through the streets of Venice after his daughter’s elopement: “O my ducats! O my daughter!” Gigi, unlike Shylock’s daughter, has chosen to forfeit her share of her father’s money. But a Jew marrying a Gentile is as unimaginable for Shylock as a woman’s union with a woman is for Gigi’s father. Added to this failure of the imagination is the father’s equally blinding belief that switching from gay to straight is simply a matter of seduction and persuasion, that money, marriage and filial obedience have the power to correct sexual deviancy.
Gigi realizes with remarkable clarity that her father’s assumptions about her ‘choices’ go beyond his incomprehension of her sexuality. There is a more fundamental mismatch between his “expectations” of her and the “reality of who I am”. Not all women wanting to be with women are the daughters of millionaires reared with the self-confidence of privilege to defy familial and societal pressures and norms. In India, for instance, be it in the villages, small towns or cities, the lives of runaway lesbians would demand an altogether more bleak, brutal or even tragic kind of cinema than one that conjures up a happy ending in Paris. India’s struggle against the “order of nature” takes on a more shadowy and invisible quality when it has to be kept up by women. Their unequal battles are fought against forms of tyranny that might lie beyond the shining clarities of a tycoon’s daughter.