In the Land of Lost Angels immediately throws the viewer into its tense world. We get a backseat POV shot of two criminal conspirators in the driver and passenger seats of a car. They worry that the vehicle behind them is a cop’s. We sense a crime has been committed. The visual language is the standard crime thriller one of shadows and dark city streets; however, the language spoken by the conspirators is unexpected. It is Mongolian.
Director Bishrel Mashbat’s use of black and white gives In the Land of Lost Angels a beautiful but desolate sheen. That sheen comes through best in the frequent shots of the backs of the conspirators’ heads and in the lighting of a desolate Los Angeles gas station.
The tension in the early stages is built quite effectively by the step-by-step preparations for a crime, a crime we later find out involves the kidnapping of a wealthy man’s son. Ankhaa (Erdenemunkh Tumursukh) mixes chemicals, steals a license plate from a car, buys a burner phone, buys a gun, and figures out with his partner Orgil (Iveel Mashbat) the best getaway route through Los Angeles’ serpentine tangle of highways.
Certain elements work well. The interactions between Ankhaa and Orgil are fraught with tension. Both characters effectively convey the precariousness of their kidnapping pact; a nagging distrust between the two gives the impression that the entire caper may crumble at any minute. Bishrel Mashbat effectively captures the toxic masculinity running through Ankhaa and Orgil.
One senses the director is documenting, and not so much celebrating, the limitations set on the characters’ personalities by their masculine facades. Their interactions are infused with a tough guise in the form of their clipped dialogue, their commentary on the sexuality of K-pop stars, and even in their arguments: “Let’s not bicker like b – – ches.”
Mashbat weaves in themes revolving around the immigrant experience. Ankhaa’s phone conversations with his family in Mongolia capture both the displacement felt when one is separated from loved ones and the obligation one feels to send money as quickly as possible to desperate family members back home. A scene in which Mongolian throat singing can be heard in the background indicates that the mother country is never far away from the characters’ psyches, even when they are engaging in criminal behavior.
Ankhaa’s character faces a series of challenges involving the delivery of a suitcase and obtaining a passport for a quick visit to Mongolia. His dependence on other Mongolian expats for help is emblematic of the fragile support system for immigrants in the United States. Many times, the only dependable support system that can be found is within one’s own expat community.
The redeeming elements and themes of In the Land of Lost Angels do not make up for the lack of original storyline. The storyline is not significantly bold enough to set itself apart in a memorable way when compared to other films in the crime thriller genre. Perhaps Mashbat’s aim was to show how the pressures involved in the execution of a crime bring forth in a heightened way topics such as immigrant struggles and toxic masculinity.
One wonders; however, if these topics could have been better explored outside the parameters of the crime thriller genre.
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