Vietnamese Produced Films and Documentaries
Ben Khong Chong (2000), Director: Luu Trong Ninh, Running Time: 101 Minutes.
The film takes place in a small village inhabited almost exclusively by women, old people, and children. Without a hint of propagandistic glossing over, Ben Khong Chong shows how decades spent without their warring men make the women left behind into the true heroines of this Southeast Asian nation. Left to their own devices, they must defend their village against more than external enemies. Envy over the slightest happiness in the neighborhood and near-terrorist feudal attitudes are just some of the effects of the war-invoked state of emergency whose cryptic day-to-day life it was impossible to film for a long time. (fdk-berlin.de/forum2001)
Chung Cu (1999), Director: Viet Linh.
Melodrama set in a Saigon apartment building called the “Victory Hotel” from 1975 onwards. Chung Cu portrays the changes in government and the economy and their effects on the residents over more than a decade as seen thru the eyes of the old janitor.
Cyclo (1996), Director:Anh Hung Tran, Running Time: 123 Minutes.
The city was once named Saigon; it is now called Ho Chi Minh City, and in this powerful second feature by Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya) it looks like a lost circle of hell. Cyclo is a survey of a society in decay, in which conventional plotting gives way to a series of enigmatic episodes and haunting observations. There are two main characters: Cyclo (Le Van Loc) is a poor urban teenager who scratches out a living operating a bicycle taxi in the murderous city traffic; the Poet (Hong Kong star Tony Leung) is the son of an upper-class family who has depressively drifted into pimping and fencing--wartime rackets still thriving in the new Vietnam.
Images of appalling violence are played against backgrounds of banal, everyday bustle--a buzzing flow of meaningless, insect-like activity. Hung's vision may be dispiritingly bleak, but his filmmaking is vivid and inventive. Each shot is distinguished by a particular quality of lighting, framing, or texture that lifts it out of the ordinary and into the realm of the strange, ravishing, and insinuating. (Dave Kehr, Amazon)
Doi Cat (Sandy Lives, 1999), Director: Nguyen Thanh Van.
Doi Cat tells of a tragic love story. Like countless other soldiers, the film's protagonist cannot return to his wife in the south for decades after the victory over the French. He falls in love anew, fathers a child and, to his great consternation, discovers at the end of the war that his wife in the south has waited for him. (fdk-berlin.de/forum2001)
Eastern Condors (1986), Director: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo.
A hugely entertaining, Dirty Dozen-style combat film about a group of Asian American ex-con GIs, dropped into post-pullout Vietnam to destroy a cache of weapons the Yanks forgetfully left behind. ("Why are foreigners so stupid?" wonders a puzzled Chinese officer.) Director-star Sammo Hung slimmed down to play the tough-as-nails platoon commander and turned in a world-class action-star performance, charismatic and tightly focused. As a director Hung displays great sweep and inventiveness in the staging of action; there are combinations of martial arts stunt work and camera angles here that are like nothing you've ever seen before. The fighters practically leap into your lap. The movie is basically crisp hard-boiled entertainment, but it also gets into the tensions between the various Asian nationalities involved in the mission--native Chinese, Chinese American, Vietnamese, Cambodian--and into everybody's mixed feelings about the U.S. (David Chute, Amazon)
Gao Rang (2002), Directors: Tran Van Thuy and Le Man Thich, Running Time: 52 Minutes.
The war in Vietnam was the most filmed conflict in world history. But, unlike the thousands of Western journalists, a small band of North Vietnamese and NLF cameramen has largely been forgotten, though they founded Vietnamese cinema. Gao Rang (meaning grilled or burnt rice) tells the story of these cameramen/soldiers. In their own words, they describe their experiences filming in combat, first against the French and later the Americans. Mai Loc and Khoung Mê, two veterans from the French war, tell of acquiring the first cameras and instruction manuals. Mr. Xuong, a traveling projectionist during both wars, recalls projecting films along the 17th Parallel, and remembers how the public reacted to the films. (Yale.edu/seas/VietnamFilmSeries)
How to Behave (1987), Running Time: 45 Minutes, Tolerance for the Dead, Running Time: 50 Minutes, The Sound of My Violin in Lai, Running time 30 Minutes; Director: Tran Van Thuy.
Tran Van Thuy is one of Vietnam's most esteemed filmmakers. American Historical Review called How to Behave "a fascinating glimpse into (North) Vietnamese society at the start of economic and social change". (thingsasian.com)
Karma (1986), Director: Ho Quang Minh Ho, Running Time: 100 Minutes.
Quang Minh's Karma was one of the first war-related films by a Vietnamese artist to be shown in the U.S. following the war's end. The film explores the effects of the conflict on Vietnamese families by focusing on a South Vietnamese officer, once presumed dead, and his wife, who is forced to become a prostitute in Saigon. (thingsasian.com)
The Scent of Green Papaya (1994), Director:Anh Hung Tran, Running Time: 104 Minutes.
"Watching it is like seeing a poem for the eyes." That's how Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert described this exquisite, Oscar-nominated, French-Vietnamese film from 1993, which begins in the 1950s and ends more than a decade later during the early years of the Vietnam War. The story is set almost entirely in a Saigon house where a 10-year-old orphan girl named Mui arrives to work as a servant. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Mui is quietly and carefully observant of everything around her, from the scent of green papaya (hence the title) to the relationship between her employers. The film takes its visual cues from Mui's observations--it's a placid, soothing film that lingers over the physical and emotional details of its setting and story.
What's really astonishing about this beautiful film is that director Anh Tran Hung shot it entirely on a soundstage in Paris, but the sights and sounds are so completely convincing that you'd swear the setting is an actual home in Saigon. This remarkable craftsmanship remains invisible to the viewer, and the seductive progression of the story unfolds with exacting visual precision. It's a film about Mui's growth and development, but also about her benevolent effect on the world around her. As such, it's a movie to savor like no other, life affirming and glorious in the memorable depth of its captivating simplicity. (Jeff Shannon, Amazon)
The Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000), Director: Anh Hung Tran, Running Time: 112 Minutes.
The lush, super-chic ambience of Tran Anh Hung's third feature, The Vertical Ray of the Sun, presents a beckoning, irresistible vision of Vietnam. The film opens with a sexy brother and sister waking up to the sound of Lou Reed's laconic voice on the stereo. They stretch, practice tai chi, meander toward a late breakfast, and playfully flirt with each other. This morning ritual--slightly disturbing but mostly alluring—recurs as a quietly resistant motif to the disappointment that awaits each character introduced. Shot on location in an impossibly hued Hanoi (lime green and chartreuse abound), the film trails after three beautiful sisters during the month that separates the anniversaries of the deaths of their mother and father. Attempting to protect the ideal memory of their parents' recently assailed love, the sisters recount kindnesses and joke with each other just as the serene charm of the café they run is to be overturned by an unexpected pregnancy and marital infidelities. Tran's lustrous style of collage is unique, pulling the viewer's attention away from imminent conflict and revelation to completely tactile and isolated moments. As with the titular subject of Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes," the sensual tension lingers on. (Fionn Meade, Amazon)
When the Tenth Month Comes (1984), Director: Dang Nhat Minh , Running Time: 90 Minutes.
In this fictitious film, "Vietnam's finest filmmaker" (The Los Angeles Times), Dang Nhat Minh, explores the dramatic impact of the war on the daily lives of the Vietnamese people through the story of a woman who attempts to keep from her family the news of her husband's death. The film was nominated for the Moscow International Film Festival's Golden Prize. (thingsasian.com)
Where War Has Passed (1998), Producer: The National Documentary and Scientific Film Studio, Hanoi, Running Time: 28 Minutes.
Where War Has Passed is a Vietnamese view of the Agent Orange issue, and an interesting example of advocacy journalism in Vietnam. It was originally made for Vietnamese audiences only. The film makers noticed that Vietnamese veterans and their children who were suffering from possible effects of Agent Orange received no government benefits, although benefits were available for families of wounded veterans and for families of those killed in action. After this film was aired and after print articles, the government established a fund for those possibly affected by Agent Orange. (yale.edu/seas/VietnamFilmSeries)