Review of ‘Cowboys in Paradise’
This is a controversial work because this is the first film about what is perhaps the most well-known open ˜secret’ of Bali “ their ˜Kuta Cowboys’. These cowboys are the bronzed beach ambassadors who made the island one of the worldÊ¼s leading destinations for female sex tourists. The subject is so controversial within Indonesia that the film maker, Amit Virmani, has received hate mail and death threats. Also, when the filmÊ¼s trailer went viral on YouTube in April of this year, the Bali Police condemned the film and temporarily arrested 28 beach boys. The men were subsequently released.
Having done due diligence in researching the film, I was already prepared for a fair, if not unbiased, representation of the cowboys. What I did not anticipate was how entertaining it would be, as well as how I learned more than a thing or two from it, and I do not mean just how this invisible ˜industry’ works. Such humorous moments included cartoon illustrations of different social situations raised by the film “ one depicting the bravado of Japanese men and how their Japanese women suffer in silence (about why Bali men are popular with Japanese women); and another portraying how French women like to be romanced (on how one cowboy preferred French women). There was genuinely funny dialogue when one travel agent, who regularly arranges for female tourists to visit Bali, reported that the penises of Bali’s men are not big, but strong, while pointing to the pen he had in his hand, and finally settling on the phrase “hard as nail as a descriptor.
The film goes on to describe what cowboys resort to in order to enhance their anatomy “ essentially filing plastic slivers off a toothbrush and inserting them into the skin of their penis, which they have cut for this purpose, and waiting a few days for it to heal. One described how he also uses horses’ hair for added sexual stimulation where one might insert a ˜Prince Albert’ piercing. Then there is the ˜vagina stone’, which despairing young women who have been unsuccessful in love are encouraged to rub against their body so as to make their vagina more attractive to a man. The ˜energy’ of the stone is transferred onto the woman and many were reportedly pleased with the results. This was when I cracked up and howled with laughter.
There were no less than ten different cowboys who were interviewed, some more extensively than others. Topics include how one became a cowboy, the tricks of the trade, their thoughts about love and marriage, as well as how their family members feel about his ˜job’. The other side of the story is also covered, namely the female sex tourists who return to Bali time and again. I was struck by how one sex tourist was able to articulate her views in a mature manner in spite of her young age. Her views, however, run contrary to the more conservative Asian values, and I can see how some audience members might fail to understand her perspective and even condemn her laissez faire attitude in particular.
Incredibly, one of the cowboy’s wives went on record saying that she did not mind what her husband does for a living. As the camera stayed on her face, she flinched, and you cannot help but wonder whether she only accepts the circumstances for lack of better alternatives. The film introduced ˜Bobby’, an older man who was a cowboy, now known as ˜The Legend’. He was philosophical about life, talking about how he had traveled the world, yet returning to Bali to teach young cowboys how to surf.
A film talking about casual sexual encounters would be hard-pressed not to talk about its perils. Cowboys in Paradise takes a stab in covering how having multiple sexual partners, combined with their occasional unsafe sex practices, raises the very real concern of HIV for the cowboys. As a sexologist, I am disturbed by the sole emphasis upon HIV/AIDS and not other sexual transmitted infections, some of which are incurable. There is no talk of whether the cowboys receive sexual education, go for regular health screenings or have had other forms of STIs. Yet, I suppose if Virmani did delve further, it would make for a longer and less appetizing movie.
If you were to summarize the essence of Cowboys in Paradise, it is as simple as this: Boy meets Girl; Girl meets Boy. They develop a connection and have sex. Except here, the boys have it down to an art. They are sometimes hunted, or, at other times, the hunter, depending on how you look at it. Cowboys in Paradise depicts reality in Bali for a sub-segment of the people there. It is funny, moving, insightful at parts, and definitely entertaining. It would be interesting to watch what Virmani comes up with next. However, I already know that the next time I go to Bali, I will be keeping my eyes peeled for these beach boys.