Published online for Close Up magazine. September 10, 2018.
In the gloriously moody opening scene, Careless Love takes us to Sydney Harbor on a rainy night: ships sift through a stilted sea, as Linh (Nammi Le) prepares for her evening, preening in the mirror. She does, in fact, live a double life. Linh is bright Anthropology student by day, and a sex worker at night, a job she takes in order to pay her way through university while her parents struggle financially. Her friends, whom she hides her job from, all believe that she is an extraordinarily conscientious student who spends each night at the library.
Instead, she befriends the other sex worker Mint (Ivy Mak), with whom she shares a car every night. Director John Duigan gives us an intimate and moving tale of the difficulties many sex workers face. Linh lives in a world where she is constantly shamed for her job, faces discrimination, and is always at risk of being “outed,” or worse, physical danger. Linh has successfully kept her job and private lives separated, until one client threatens to disrupt the balancing act, her friendships and budding romance.
Careless Love’s gorgeous cinematography lights up a film whose world mostly unfolds in the nighttime: dreamy, that at times reveals Linh’s private nightmare. There is a sensuality and extreme honesty to this film that is refreshing and quite touching. Nammi Lee gives us a terrific, embodied performance, endowing Linh with strength and wit. The audience will be rendered breathless by this touching personal portrait of a larger social issue, and will not forget some of its light, comical touches.
Duigan’s triumphant indie seems to stare directly at the viewer, eviscerating the illogisme of anyone who dares to criticise Linh. In many ways, Duigan holds up a mirror to society through Linh’s story. The film unfolds as a drama, but is tethered firmly to the reality that many women like Linh face.
Spectators will be energized by Duigan’s sensitive portrayal of Linh’s particular circumstance: she plays the role of escort, and she must use her cunning not only for self-protection, but also to understand what role she must play to her clients, and what role they are performing to her. In a private world peopled by men enacting performative roles, she gets the final word. Careless Love is truly a powerful and moving film about a woman’s quest for agency in a world that both vilifies and exploits her.