Blog by Vietnam based documentary Photographer Christian Berg
categories: Cinema, Culture, Media, Vietnam

When I am in Saigon I usually try to go to Cinema once a week. Most of the films that are screened here are Hollywood Blockbusters or some B-movies that for one reason or another made it into the local cinema. Besides that there is a fair amount of East Asian horror and martial arts movies coming in. The Vietnamese movies (nowadays almost always with English subtitles) are mostly comedies or chickflicks, well produced though with lots of overseas Vietnamese influence, but stay on the rather shallow end of the spectrum. Friends of arthouse cinema have slightly harder time here (which leads to more private screenings). However when I went to cinema this Sunday it was a local Vietnamese movie which totally hit my movie nerve: Hot Boy Noi Loan (or “Lost in Paradise” – which is not a direct translation btw).

Hot Boy Noi Loan tells the story of a young man coming to Saigon in order to find happiness but the very first thing he encounters is betrayal, and so after only being in the big city for a few hours he finds himself naked in an empty apartment, robbed of all his savings. But this is only one of many stories in this movie. It looks at gay love and prostitution in very direct yet not moralistic way. In another story line the film also follows a mentally challenged man who drifts through Saigon’s streets, falling in love with an aging prostitute and finds himself hatching a duck egg. If these story lines sound odd to you, than it is because they are. And this is what makes the film different from other local productions.

Overall the movie is a refreshing surprise for the local film industry.

I love the movie for several reasons:

- It a great change from other Vietnamese movies which either portrait homosexuals in a stereotypical and funny way (De Mai Tinh / Fool for Love) or look at prostitution clearly as a “social evil” (Gai Nhay / Bar Girls).

- Hot Boy Noi loan convinces through deeply poetic cinematography and music (especially following the character of Cuoi and the duck egg)

- personally I always love to watch movies set in Saigon and I always try to spot familiar locations in the Thanh Pho (in this case the movie mainly was set in D4, D2 and Binh Thanh District near the railroads that run close to my friends house)

While I can go on to hail Hot Boy Noi Loan for its creativity, story and cinematography, there where also a few points to critique. One is a technical aspect – quite often the camera focus did not seem to be quite right – this for me does not really matter though, but I guess it shows that it must have been produced with a really low budget that did not allow much space to re-shoot scenes. The other one are the parallel story lines: I wonder why they never cross?

Overall a great movie for everyone slightly interested in contemporary Vietnamese Cinema.

categories: Cinema, general
tags: , ,

Asian Hot Shots Film Festival started yesterday in Berlin. – for sure worth checking out for anyone in the German capital!

categories: Cinema, Vietnam

The Legend is alive (Huyen Thoai Bat Tu) is for sure one of the best Vietnamese movies that I have seen so far. The movie has been a big success during Tet (Vietnamese New Year) 2008. It features Vietnamese-American Actor Dustin Nguyen, who some of you might now from playing on the side of Jonny Depp in 21 Jumpstreet, as a mentally challenged martial artist who wants to bring the ashes of his dead mother to America as he believes that Bruce Lee is his father. Even though filmed with a relatively low budget as most movies in Vietnam The Legend is Alive has great cinematography and some deja vu moments for those familiar with Saigon (for example when former favorite night life hot spot The Cage appears as a sleazy club where elderly men can get arranged marriages….)