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Lost in Paradise | Review

And lost in other places, too…

Credited as what may be the first film from Vietnam to explicitly depict homosexuality is this new film from Ngoc Dang Vu, Lost in Paradise. Whether or not it depicts homosexuality is arguable and doubtful. Whether it’s a mess of a narrative, terribly written, overacted and shoddily directed, however, is certain. Sometimes being the first isn’t the best distinction.

The film opens with Khoi, a naïve twenty year old who flees his native village when his sexual orientation is discovered, for Ho Chi Minh City. Within minutes he is the victim of a duplicitous robbery by a pair of male prostitutes offering him a place to live. While he showers, they abscond with his belongings, his documents, and all his money and we learn that they are boyfriends. However, they immediately break up after their heist and the film follows the gentler half of the pair, Lam, who returns to the streets as a prostitute. We learn his backstory and learn that his ex, Dong, fooled him into the current lifestyle he’s trapped in. He reunites with Khoi by chance, returns his belongings, and before you can blink, they’re hopelessly in love. Conflict is quick to follow because Lam is convinced it is his fate to be a professional prostitute while Khoi can’t fathom his boyfriend sleeping with other men. Meanwhile, we’re treated to a subplot involving an aging female prostitute that’s humorously abused by a female pimp and her moped driver (humorous because it’s played like high camp, even as it employs violent and abusive interactions) and a mentally handicapped man, Cuoi, who wants to befriend her. Her pimps think he drives away customers so they absurdly chase him away in nearly every scene he tries to approach the prostitute. In fact, you may never see such attentive pimps as in this film. And yet another subplot involves the dawdling Cuoi saving a duck egg from being boiled and hatching it into existence within his t-shirt.

If this sounds like a mess on paper, it’s not helped by the cinematic medium. Nearly every scene attempting to evoke feelings of sadness (so 90% of the interactions with the male prostitutes) are hindered by tinkling piano keys and/or a melody meant to evoke melancholy longing. The handicapped Cuoi, a comic relief from the heavy handed gay hookers, apes about the screen as a mute for most of his screen time. While some of his scenes raising the baby duck are certainly “cute,” they do little but distract from what we’re lead to believe is the main slant of the film. The warring narratives don’t tie together and have no cohesive relationship with another other than involving prostitutes in the same city.

The film’s preoccupation with sex workers is more an accurate angle than its attempt at commentary on gay love. While Khoi is given the only sensible line in the film, attempting to dissuade Lam from working the streets, “You can’t choose your sexual persuasion, but you can choose how you live your life,” one wonders why the director and the screenwriter (who also stars) failed to convey this accordingly. You’ll leave the film with the impression that it’s really, really, really hard to have a relationship with a sex worker. And gay love with a sex worker? Forget about it! Lost in Paradise shows us that gay love on its own is nearly impossible, so sex workers are just a hopeless lot all around.

Reviewed on September 8the at the 2011 Toronto Int. Film Festival – DISCOVERY Programme.

103 Min.

Rating 1 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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