Looking For? examines a frequently asked question on gay dating apps

Director Chou Tung Yen (left) spent four years making Looking For?
Director Chou Tung Yen (left) spent four years making Looking For?PHOTO: LOVE & PRIDE FILM FESTIVAL

The title of the documentary Looking For? comes from a message frequently received by men on gay dating apps.

That phrase, with all its philosophical and sociological underpinnings, is explored by Taiwanese director Chou Tung Yen in his film.

Some years ago, as a newcomer to online dating, Chou thought when a stranger asked that question, he was expressing a genuine interest in knowing all of Chou's needs.

"Wherever I used the app, in Denmark or Hong Kong, I got the same question," says the 36-year-old on the telephone with The Straits Times from Taipei.

He had no idea how to respond.

"Is he asking about my life? It's a deep question," he says. But after a check with friends, he realised his mistake.

  • VIEW IT / 9TH LOVE & PRIDE FILM FESTIVAL

  • WHERE: Golden Village cinemas

    WHEN: Tonight to Oct 8, various times

    ADMISSION: $13

    INFO: gv.com.sg

"Looking for?" is the blunt but accepted way in which an interested party finds out if his needs - for a long-term relationship or something much shorter - are compatible with the needs of the person he is messaging.

Looking For? (R21, 60 minutes) is the opening film of the 9th Love & Pride Film Festival. It screens tonight at 7pm at GV Grand in Great World City. The film's editor, Huang Chia Wen, will answer questions from the audience after the screening.

In the film, Chou interviews gay men in Taiwan, Hong Kong, London, New York, Beijing and other locations to find out how that simple question and dating apps have changed their lives.

He already knew that online dating places a premium on superficial qualities, such as physical appearance, but in speaking to the men, he discovered a deeper truth.

"The apps are just a mirror. They reflect who you really are," he says. Users get as much out of it - be it shallowness or depth - as they put into it, he says.

In the film, men open up on how insecure and body-conscious they become when compared with others on the app, or how hard it is to find a lasting relationship, despite it being easier to find others in the community, especially in countries where coming out as gay is still frowned upon.

Huang, 31, the film's editor, says she was at first at a loss as to how to string together the series of interviews, which cover a broad range of topics and sometimes trigger unexpectedly emotional responses.

"The more I listened, the more complicated it became. They are so intimate, so honest, and happy and sad," she says.

She realised that the thread linking all the interviews was Chou's own four-year journey spent making the film, and how his views changed over time.

Both agreed that Chou himself would be the film's protagonist.

Chou says that at the start, he was, as he says, "naive" and keen to explore the new digital realm.

"After four years of using the app, I became so lazy and reluctant to even open it," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'A look at how a simple question can change lives'. Print Edition | Subscribe