Writer-director Erich Rettstadt’s (雷利) Tank Fairy—playing in SXSW 2022’s Midnight Shorts section and nominated for the festival’s short film Grand Jury Award—is a glittering queer delight. An opening caption informs us that Taiwan’s song wa si de (workers who supply gas tanks to street vendors and old residential buildings) are generally male, pot-bellied, and lacking in glamour. Cue the antithesis of that; the fierce and fabulous Tank Fairy (Marian 瑪麗安). With bejeweled crimson nails, rocking a blue pleather jumpsuit, and riding a hot pink and purple motorbike to go about the job, she turns heads in Taipei City.
When she arrives at the home of an uptight mother (a hilariously stern Danielle Yen 顏卉婕) with badly chipped nail polish who is impervious to her charms, the Tank Fairy whistles (Holding Out For A Hero, which runs through the film) while she works, catching the attention of ten-year-old Jojo (Ryan 宥騰), who is immediately enamored. That night he tosses and turns and dreams of what he needs…to be a voguing drag icon as sickening as the Tank Fairy herself. Back in reality though, his mother is unimpressed when she walks in on the boy striking a pose in her dress and heels. As Jojo gives the gas tank a rub and some glittery mice start to scurry, there’s hope of a drag intervention.
Given Jojo’s situation as a kid bursting to express himself and explore his gender identity, it’s difficult not to think of the raft of anti-LGBTQ+ legislative measures being introduced across the country predominantly aimed at trans youth and their families. Here is a funny, life-affirming, piece of magic realism that celebrates allowing young people to reveal who they are and the power of acceptance. Taiwanese trans drag artist Marian 瑪麗安, making her acting debut, is endlessly charismatic in the role, owning every moment she’s on screen and there’s a touching, tender dynamic between her and her young drag protégé. Ryan 宥騰, a dancer and member of the K-pop boy group SUPERKIDS, also makes his acting debut in the film with an endearing, captivating turn.
With barely any dialogue, and some fabulously cartoon-like vocalisations, Tank Fairy almost plays out like silent movie, with heightened, but truthful emotions. You’re going to want to have that volume pumped up to eleven though, to appreciate the incredible cover of Holding Out For A Hero performed by Paiwanese singer and actor Utjung Tjakivalid, produced by Taiwanese electronica artist and DJ Sonia Calico, variations of which are weaved into an exhilarating soundtrack that makes it hard to sit still. With Euphoria‘s memorably euphoric use of the track in the homoerotic gym sequence in Lexi’s high school play, it’s already been quite a year for Bonnie Tyler’s 80s anthem, reinvigorating its status as a queer classic.
The candy colours pop, with vibrant production design by Ming-Jen Hsieh 謝明仁, hair and makeup by Kimmy Mesula 洪育綸, and costumes by Taos Daw-Chyi Wu 吳道齊, along with gorgeous pink tones and dynamic camerawork by cinematographer Danny Wang 王淳宇 and propulsive editing by Rettstadt, all contributing to an uplifting, restorative burst of queer bliss. Jojo and the Tank Fairy’s free-flowing, joyous choreography is courtesy of Akuma Diva Xtravaganza 徐百川, a member of the Iconic House of Xtravaganza and IHOW Taiwan. Tank Fairy is an impressive calling card for Erich Rettstadt, a queer American filmmaker based in Taipei, who is currently developing the film into a short anthology series.
By James Kleinmann
Tank Fairy plays SXSW’s Midnight Shorts Program at Alamo Lamar A on March 13th 2022 at 9:30pm and on March 17th at 3pm, with an Online Screening window from March 14th at 9am CDT until March 21st at 9am CDT.
Tank Fairy star Marian Mesula performs at SXSW on March 19th at Cheer Up Charlie’s.