Lost in Paradise: Challenging Vietnamese Cinema

Lost in Paradise is a typical love story with a contemporary twist. The two main characters meet. They fall in love, but their love is challenged by their families. How many movies can you name with that kind of a plot? Too many. The twist to this film, however, is that the characters are gay and Vietnamese. Since homosexuality is rarely shown in Vietnamese cinema, let alone discussed in Vietnam, Lost in Paradise pushes the boundaries in Vietnamese society and Vietnamese filmmaking. It gives viewers a fresh take on issues gay men currently experience in Vietnam.

Although Vietnamese cinema has been prevalent in Vietnam for a long time, it seemed almost non-existent to people outside the country until the late 1980s. Films produced during the Socialist regime were only shown within the country and had a propaganda purpose. Films were to promote nationalism and reinforce traditional ideology. Only after the withdrawal of Soviet support and an influx of capitalist funds, circa 1990s, do we begin to see commercial and independent films being produced and shown outside Vietnam. (Hamilton, 2009). Therefore, Vietnamese cinema is relatively new in a sense and to see a Vietnamese independent film in the Vancouver International Film Festival makes it a gem. Lost in Paradise is the first “queer” feature film from Vietnam to enter the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Lost in Paradise is particular daring because it touches upon a subject that is rarely examined in Vietnam. Vietnamese values and norms are heavily rooted in Confucianism, such that a man/son must marry a woman and reproduce in order to continue the patrilineage. To be gay meant that the man will dishonour the family and thus receive no support (seen in the film). It is not surprising that most Vietnamese people in Vietnam believe homosexuality does not exist. And for those who know it exists in Vietnam, it is believed that it is just a “fad” that is brought on by Western influences. Men caught engaging in gay sex are usually sent to be re-educated. (Blanc 2005). So for this film to openly illustrate gay life is rather risqué. It defies popular view of homosexuality in Vietnam. It shows the difficulties of being gay, such as the type of work one might end up in, the stigma one faces, and so forth in today’s Vietnam. (It is also said to be quite accurate, as well.)

Alongside the love story in Lost in Paradise is a sub-story about a mentally-challenged man, his motherly role in hatching and raising a duckling, and his affection for a female sex worker. The two stories demonstrate the simplicity and purity of love and affection in Saigon’s unforgiving sex industry.

Nonetheless, Lost in Paradise has its shortfalls. For one, the story isn’t new. Secondly, the dialogue can be cheesy. Yet, all shortfalls can be easily forgiven and forgotten (for me) because the two main characters are really really hot!

Athena Wong

Lost in Paradise (To Roi Hotboy Mat)
Directed by Vu Ngoc Dang