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Award-winning film Tank Fairy is a defiant celebration of Taiwan’s drag community

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Marian Mesula (L) and Jojo (R) in Tank Fairy. (Manbo Key)

Tank Fairy, a musical comedy following drag artists and the queer community in Taiwan, has delighted film festival audiences around the world.

The film follows drag artist Tank Fairy (Marian Mesula), who transports gas tanks to local businesses and street vendors. In contrast to the straight-laced drivers, Marian shows up to work with “sass, stilettos and a healthy helping of glitter”.

When Jojo (Ryan Lin), a 10-year-old dreaming of dancing and drag, strikes up a friendship with Tank Fairy, a heartwarming journey of acceptance unfolds. Their unexpected bond helps the youngster to overcome his family and friend’s prejudice as he explores his true self.

The film has already won prizes at several festivals, including the special jury awards at Palm Springs International ShortFest and Seattle’s international event, and the audience award at Mix Brazil.

“Drag performers are at the forefront of Taiwan’s LGBT community,” Mesula told The Guardian. “A lot of people in Asia can’t be themselves. But when they see us, they feel braver.”

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Jojo in Tank Fairy. (Manbo Key)
Jojo (Ryan Lin) in Tank Fairy. (Manbo Key)

Speaking about Jojo’s arc in accepting himself, she added: “There are so many kids like Jojo in Asia. But now Taiwanese drag performers are seen more, it’s like they’ve found a new hope.”

And producer, Anita Tung, believes it’s about time the world knew about the vibrant and thriving LGBTQ+ community in a country that declares its independence even though the Chinese government regards it as their province.

“Taiwan has been limited by politics and other burdens,” Tung explained. “In the past, Taiwan has not been as unimpeded. We didn’t know how to tell the world that we can accept all these ideas.”

Following the film’s success, Tank Fairy is also being transformed into a TV series called Fanteasia. Each episode will put the uniquely Taiwanese way of celebrating queer culture under the microscope.

The film’s director, Erich Rettstadt, who has been living in Taiwan with his husband for the past five years, has high hopes for the film.

Marian and Jojo. (Manbo Key)
Tank Fairy (Marian Mesula) and Jojo. (Manbo Key)

“I want to collaborate with the Taiwanese drag community, to build a new platform for local queer artists here, to create a project showcasing Taiwan’s unique cultural identity on the international stage,” he said.

In a Q&A at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, he explained that he extended his stay in Taiwan from nine months to five years after immersing himself in the queer community.

He also confirmed that he wrote the film with Mesula in mind. “I used to go [to] see her perform at Taipei gay bars and events. She is such an incredible performer, I wanted to work for her and build the project around her,” he said.

Lin, meanwhile, was found on Instagram through his dance teacher. “After casting him, I discovered his life mirrored Jojo[‘s] in many ways: coming from a conservative family, [with] a strict mum, [and] an outcast at school just because he is a boy who likes to dance.”

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