Paradise in ServiceBerlin Film Festival 2015
Set on the Taiwanese island of Kinmen against a backdrop of military conscription and a fledgling communist state in Mainland China, Paradise in Service is a strange mix of romantic drama and war film. The period and setting are intriguing, and the film’s subject has the potential to provide an engaging and original narrative, but an uneven tone and a muddled message prevent it from carrying any real emotional weight.
In his first year of military service, Pao – a young recruit played by Ethan Juan – has the unfortunate honour of becoming a Sea Dragon, an arm of the Taiwanese navy notorious for their tough training. Finding himself somewhat lacking in the swimming department, Pao is reassigned by a seemingly strict but actually kindly general. He finds himself stationed in a local brothel, supervising the girls responsible for providing comfort to thousands of soldiers in the area.
The island of Kinmen is in a unique position: just two miles from mainland China, it’s as close as China and Taiwan get, and is therefore of great military importance. The shots of seaside locals are gorgeous and treated, like most aspects of the film, with a warm nostalgia that belies the desperation of the times. Warm filters, lush greenery and eternally clear skies provide a rose-tinted view of the militarily controlled locale.
Tonally, the film strays from the genre of authentic period drama early on, and never quite manages to get back on track. Training sequences are treated comically: one scene in which Pao must keep track of two women in a shop, both of whom have been handcuffed to him to prevent their escape, is slapstick in its portrayal.
Paradise in Service isn’t entirely without emotion. A handful of scenes accurately portray the darkness of the setting and occasionally allude to more rounded characters than seen in the rest of the film, although more often than not, they’re hampered by the film’s uneven tone and reliance on melodrama. The most unappealing aspect of the film, however, is the portrayal of the women in the brothel. Held against their will, and forced to pleasure dozens of men every day, the film still attempts to claim moral justification for denouncing these women for their duplicity.
Some may find the romance of Pao’s tale engaging enough to enjoy Paradise in Service, but despite initially having plenty going for it, the film has little to say and errs a little too regularly on the the side of misogyny to provide any real insight into the period.
Joe Manners Lewis
Paradise in Service does not yet have a UK release date.
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Watch the trailer for Paradise in Service here: