VIFF 2011: Gay Asian films explore world of prostitution

Published: September 29, 2011

Quite a number of queer-interest films at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (which kicks off today, in case you missed the memo) hail from Asia as part of the Dragons and Tigers program. Since LGBT communities are gaining ground in countries there, we’ll inevitably see more and more media representations of gay life emerge from them.

Prostitution happens to be a common thread in three out of VIFF’s four Asian queer-interest selections this year. (The exception is Japan’s Our Future , about a tomboyish girl who is bullied at school for being too masculine.)

In the Filipino thriller Señorita , for example, a transgender surrogate mother and upscale hooker moves to a smalltown where she gets caught up in the politics surrounding an imminent election.

But far from glamorizing the business, making it appear sexy, or sugarcoating things, two of the films keep a particularly fixed eye on the consequences and complications of working in the sex trade.

Lost in Paradise (which has its first screening tonight) breaks new ground as one of the first Vietnamese films to depict gay life in Ho Chi Minh City as its primary subject matter.

In the film, a handsome, inexperienced youth, Khoi, moves to the city, and is swiftly taken advantage of by two gay conmen. One of them, Lam, takes pity on him, and even falls for him.

While the film veers towards material that may seem well-trodden to fans of international queer cinema, and saccharine and romantic content (such as a mute mentally handicapped man who raises a duckling) gets cloying, it does keep things realistic when it comes to the hardships of being gay in the city.

The story makes much of the emotional impact of prostitution on personal relationships. Lam’s prostitution rapidly becomes a point of contention between the pair that threatens their intimacy. Meanwhile, abuse (including a female prostitute with an abusive couple as pimps), gay-bashings, and other forms of violence circle them as well. And it makes it clear that it’s not a world that’s easy to get out of once you’re in it.

Stateless Things from South Korea takes an even rawer, more grim look at the lives of two young men, one living in affluence, the other barely scraping by. But both are trapped in unhappy lives.

One is an illegal North Korean immigrant named Jun, who tries to find whatever work he can, including an abusive gas station owner. The other is Hyeon, who lives in an upscale apartment thanks to his sugar daddy—a married businessman. Both wind up in prostitution, the first out of desperation, the other out of boredom and rebellion.

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