JOHN Duigan is no stranger to controversy.
In 1987, the English-born Australian director made the seminal The Year My Voice Broke, an AFI award-winning sexual coming of age story, which was followed by the sequel Flirting.
In 1993, he made Sirens, an erotic romp perhaps best known for its saucy turns by Elle Macpherson and Portia De Rossi.
After a long-time absence overseas, Duigan has returned home to make Careless Love, about a Vietnamese-Australian university student who moonlights as an escort.
After the bank threatens to repossess the family home, Linh (a measured performance by newcomer Nammi Le) secretly signs up to work at Orient Express, an Asian call-girl agency.
Accompanied by fellow escort Mint (a scene-stealing Ivy Lak) and driver Dion (Aussie veteran David Field), she “entertains” an oddball cast of clients, one of whom is mysterious American art dealer Luke (a hit-and-miss accent attempt by Aussie mainstay Peter O’Brien).
Linh manages to keep her two worlds separate, until she falls for fellow student Jack (Andrew Hazzard) and her family is shamed in the eyes of Sydney’s Vietnamese community.
Not unlike Duigan’s breakout The Year My Voice Broke, Careless Love can be awkward to watch – such is its raw honesty – but it is surprisingly devoid of explicit sex scenes, bar an encounter between a crooked cop and self-confessed street girl Mint.
Duigan has deftly directed a beautifully shot commentary that calls for reflection on societal moral attitudes towards women and prostitution.
But for all its intellectual intents and purposes, was it necessary to typecast Asian women as escorts? Surely, the Australian film industry has matured enough to create roles for ethnic actors that transcend well-worn cultural clichés.
CARELESS Love (MA15+)
Directed by: John Duigan
Starring: Nammi Le, Andrew Hazzard, Peter O’Brien
Rating: Three stars
Screening: From May 31