Vietnam Pushes the Envelope with Risky BIFF Entry

Gay-themed 'Lost in Paradise' represents desire for expansion within the local industry.

BUSAN, South Korea -- A gay love story from Vietnam takes the country’s film industry into new territory, with Lost in Paradise set for its Asian premiere in Busan ahead of its domestic release later this year.

Vu Ngoc Dang’s film had its world premiere at in Toronto, and exhibited at the Vancouver Film Festival earlier this month.

Lost in Paradise is the latest development in an industry that has inched towards expansion and greater international attention and participation. In Oct. 2010, Vietnam held its first Vietnam International Film Festival (VNIFF) in Hanoi, seeking to showcase the country as a potential location and spur the local industry through screenings and interaction with prominent film industry figures. BIFF and VNIFF signed a memorandum of understanding in June, 2010, for greater cooperation between the two organizations.

In the movie, Khoi (Ho Vinh Khoa), 20, goes to Ho Chi Minh City to start his career. After being swindled and losing all his money, he meets Lam (Luong Manh Hai) and the two begin a same-sex relationship.

“We expect that it will charm and surprise the public and also prove to be engaging to a number of key buyers from around the region,” said Michael J. Werner, chairman of Fortissimo Films, which has the film’s international rights, by e-mail. “There is a great curiosity about contemporary Vietnam and as this film breaks some new ground, we feel the film will have good prospects across a range of media platforms in a number of international territories,” he added.

Fortissimo’s acquisition of the international rights is also a Vietnamese film first. “Release in Vietnam is due to take place within the coming four to five weeks. International sales efforts are just underway now so overseas releases are not yet set,” Werner said. The film is now set for domestic Vietnam release on Oct. 14, Vietnam’s BHD-Vietnam Media Corp. confirmed 

While the subject matter is unusual for a Vietnamese film, it looks set to avoid censorship given its limited appeal outside the art house circuit and the way the censors have worked before. The Vietnamese government must approve only a shooting script and a final cut for foreign films prior to production and local release, but seems much more tolerant of non-mainstream themes than censors in neighboring China.

Vietnam’s government has also allowed distribution of other potentially sensitive movie subjects before, such as corruption in Heaven’s Net and HIV/AIDS in Bar Girls. It is keen to grow the industry and develop international co-productions, and therefore looks set to let it pass.

In stark contrast, Vietnam chose Thang Long Aspiration, a film about a war between two brothers in the 9th century, as its Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

Many in the film industry describe Lost as brave. “The film shows us uncommon aspects of the modern society in Vietnam and an uncommon story about the life of Vietnamese people,” said Giovanna Fulvi, the Toronto International Film Festival’s Asia-Pacific curator said.

Produced by BHD-Vietnam Media Corp., it is based on a script by Luong Manh Hai and Vu Ngoc Dang.

Vu previously directed Long Legged Girls, which was a major hit in Vietnam in 2004. Lost is his third film and was produced by Vietnam’s BHD-Vietnam Media Corp.

“Vu Ngoc Dang is one of a new generation of Vietnamese directors that has both commercial sensibilities and strong artistic vision,” said Werner.

“In (Lost in Paradise, through) the use of drama and comedy he depicts the intersection of the daily lives of a gay couple, a mentally disabled man, and a female prostitute and in doing so his film reveals the complexities and absurdities of life, love and relationships” Werner added.

Lost in Paradise screens on Oct. 11 at 4 pm at Lotte Centum City 4 in the Window on Asian Cinema section.

-- Steven Schwankert contributed to this article.