When Director Ngoc Dang Vu released his movie “Lost in Paradise” late last year, he knew he was not only depicting an on-screen forbidden romance, but challenging ossified Vietnamese views on homosexuality as well. Though the country has gradually grown more accepting over the years, the LGBT community in Vietnam still faces widespread discrimination. Same-sex marriage is outlawed, homosexuality is frowned upon and considered a disease by many, and–similiar to a refrain we hear in America–many view homosexuality as a threat to the traditional family structure.
Vu’s film, on the other hand, is anything but condemning of the LGBT community. Billed as the first Vietnamese film to positively depict gay romance, the film tells the story of 20-year-old Khoi as he ventures to Saigon after being disowned by his family for being gay and begins a dicey romance with a prositute named Lam. A second storyline also emerges about a mentally disabled man named Cuoi, his attempts at raising a duckling, and his befriending of a female prostitute named Hanh.
The Toronto Film Festival describes it as such:
Perhaps the first film from Vietnam to depict homosexual love both explicitly and in a positive light, Ngoc Dang Vu’sLost in Paradise conveys its characters’ lives in a remarkable range of tones, from the humorous to the absurd to the tragic. Khoi, a naive twenty-year-old, travels to Ho Chi Minh City from the countryside to begin a new life.
It’s his first time in the big city and he’s looking for a place to live. He befriends Dong, a handsome extrovert who offers to share his apartment. When Khoi goes to check the place out, he meets Lam, who also appears to be living there. Khoi decides to stay, but while he showers, Dong and Lam — who turn out to be boyfriends — run off with all his cash and belongings. It’s not long before Lam is himself abandoned by Dong, and winds up back on the street as a prostitute. Meanwhile the penniless and disillusioned Khoi takes on menial jobs to survive. Lam and Khoi are eventually reunited, and despite Lam’s past actions, the two become closer and closer — even though Khoi becomes more and more troubled by Lam’s dangerous source of income.
At the same time, Cuoi, a mentally handicapped man abandoned by his family, attempts to befriend a female prostitute. Her pimps do not take kindly to his hanging around and scaring away customers, but she takes pity on him and ultimately becomes his protector.
Lost in Paradise boldly depicts the hardships of those living on the fringes of Vietnamese society: the dangers and abuse within the world of prostitution; gay-bashing; the difficulty of sustaining a meaningful relationship under extremely precarious circumstances; and the pariah-like status and lack of support for the handicapped. Lost in Paradise opens our eyes to rarely glimpsed facets of contemporary Vietnam, and relays stories that are usually left untold
So far the film has been well-received popularly, racking in roughly $900,000 in ticket sales. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and made subsequent runs at the Vancouver International Film Festival and Busan International Film Festival. It’s expected to make a run at the Berlin International Film Festival in February of this year. Critically the film has been noted for its genuine emotion, but can be a little trying in it’s narration–understandable for a production from a still nascent Vietnamese film industry.
More important than the accolades it receives or the money its grosses, however, is the social impact the film can make. A 50-year-old state employee who withheld her name was quoted in an AFP article as saying, “Now I think they [the LGBT community] are just like us.”
Of course, one film won’t be able to reverse the deeply rooted views of many, and discrimination against the LGBT community will likely, unfortunately, remain with Vietnam for some time.
But, as Nguyen Quoc Duy, an openly gay 21-year-old student also quoted in the AFP article remarks, “”I don’t know if the movie succeeded in telling people that being gay is normal, but for sure it helped them understand who we really are and how wrong the prejudice they have against us is.”
The trailer for Lost in Paradise:
Images from tiff.net and oratrip.com