Can an LGBT Film Help Change Attitudes About Homosexuality in Vietnam?

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 and

Sources: AFP | TIFF | Wiki | Thanh Nhien

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  1. Being gay may be normal for many people; I easily accept that, but the homosexual life-style causes AIDS transmission, and it should therefore not be positively regarded.

        1. But that’s what you implied. The homosexual lifestyle isn’t any different than the heterosexual lifestyle. You can not make generalizations about a community based upon what some do.

  2. HIV is clearly all about people having unprotected sex and this covers any sexuality from same-gender  to opposite-gender attracted people.  It becomes more of an issue when one of the sexual partners is HIV positive – and in today’s world that can mean a heterosexual person as much as it could be a homosexual individual.

    A wake-up: Many heterosexual couples practice anal sex within their intimate relationships so its a lurch-back to a phobic past to describe homosexuality as a “life-style cause of AIDS transmission”.

    Stepping away from these fears and phobias, the main positive to come from “Lost In Paradise” and other similar movies, through increased visibility for gays and lesbians and through them increased visibility for the allied communities that surround them, including transgender.  

    Enlightenment and knowledge can and must replace ignorance and fear.  The test will come when comments from people living in the past (“Malaria Survivor” is a great example) slowly change to reveal that more than their hearts but their brains too have awakened to reality rather than just the ignorance they have previously been accommodating within.

  3. The homosexual population has significantly higher incidences of a
    large number of diseases. One of the reasons is the significantly
    higher promiscuity found in the homosexual life-style. And according to
    WebMD, men who have sex with men (and women) are a significant bridge
    for AIDS to women. Most don’t know, but the Center for Disease Control
    say homosexual men accounted for 65 percent of the cases of syphilis in
    the United States in 2007, a primary driver of increased syphilis rates
    overall. … The homosexual “lifestyle” tends to be a very unhealthy one,
    and its promotion is immoral.

    Therefore enlightenment and knowledge
    must replace ignorance and fear. The test will come when comments from
    people living in the past (“Greg” is a great example) change to reveal
    that more than his heart but his brain too have awakened to reality
    rather than just the ignorance he has happily lived with.

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