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: general, Journalism, Media, Vietnam

Last year I wrote a blog post about the so called “old hacks” re-union of former Vietnam war correspondents in Saigon.

A few weeks ago I found a few images by photographer Jay Vandevoort posted on flickr. So I had the rare chance to see myself in action: here taking pictures of Pulitzer price winner Nick Ut and here having a chat with Peter Arnett and Eddie Lederer.

categories: Architecture, Culture, Journalism, Media, Vietnam

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about Saigon’s Eden Building.
Saigon based film maker Peter Scheid has some interesting footage of the place, following its last years from 2005 to 2011 – check it out:

PS: these are only some of the 9 episodes available on youtube

Few cities change as fast as Saigon does. Leave for a few months and where once was one of your favorite cafes in an old charming colonial building now a new modernist highrise fantasy is looming over downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Of course this is the course (and maybe the curse) of modernity, but here in Saigon it just seems to strike stronger than in other places. Maybe my European roots make me feel sad when I see the old witnesses of history, such as the Eden building being mown down like weeds on a golf course. At least we had our fare share of sins that we now regret. Here in Vietnam the attachment to the past does not seem strong. And why not? Colonial architecture probably only reminds of years of suppression. But will future generation see it the same way? As a visitor here this is probably not my question to answer.

However I had the luck to visit the famous Eden building in Downtown Saigon just a few weeks before it was finally torn down. The chance to witness a historic place that is now gone forever. Not only was it place to the well known cafe Givral, but also did it host the office of the Associated Press during the American Vietnam war. Many pulitzer prices passed this ancient halls before they changed the public perception of this war forever.

Here a few images in reminiscence of one of the underestimated buildings of the younger past:

Saigon's District 1 at dusk. Lots of new high rise buildings appear every year. Vietnam 2010

A view of Eden building and Vincom Towers in downtown Saigon, Vietnam 2010

The "Eden" sign of the building with the same name in front of the new built Vincom Towers in Saigon, 2010

Some of the last inhabitants of Saigon’s famous Eden building

The inhabitants used to have lots of greenery inside Saigon's Eden Building, Vietnam 2010

This young artist was one of the last inhabitants of Saigon's Eden Building

The door of the former AP office in Saigon's Eden Building 2010

Saigon, Eden Building and Dong Khoi, Vietnam 2010

The rest of Saigon's Eden Building, Vietnam 2011

Where once the Eden Building stood is now a huge construction side, Saigon, Vietnam, 2011

for further reading there was this story in The Independent a few weeks ago…

Since beginning of the year I take part in an interesting blogging project by the German cultural institution Goethe Institute. The project is called Cityscapes and connects young journalists in Asia, Australia and Europe. The idea is to look at urban life at the beginning of the 21st century. Every months there is a different topic for the bloggers to explore through text and images. For em a great way to see the common points and differences of some of the most exiting places of the world. My recent entry looks at the brave new world of Saigon’s hypermodern suburb Phu My Hung… Looking forward to see how this whole project develops!

categories: Media, Vietnam