Sex, violence and LGBT relationships have long been taboo for Vietnam’s film censors, but they are now finding their way into the open as a new wave of directors push the boundaries set by the nation’s conservative communist leaders.
The latest movie to test the waters is Chi Chi Em Em, Vietnamese for “sister sister,” featured at Asia’s biggest film festival this week after a strong performance at the national box office.
A psychological thriller about love, deceit and revenge, the film has sex scenes between women and a complex narrative focused on adultery and trauma — the type of movie that might have struggled to be made just five years ago.
“When I told them about the script, a lot of people said: ‘You should just save your time, it’s going to get cut,’” 39-year-old director Kathy Uyen said.
“I want to tell daring stories about modern women who are strong and quirky, and full of passion,” the Vietnamese-American filmmaker said.
“I don’t let fear hold me back,” she added, before the movie was screened at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea this week.
According to Vietnamese government guidelines, films must demonstrate “good ideological content” to pass the censorship board — and pornography, violence and hostility toward the state are not allowed.
However, the board is often accused of censorship beyond its remit.
Last year, filmmaker Phan Dang Di told Vietnamese state media that the approval process was akin to “torture,” while others have admitted that they self-censor to avoid an exhausting back-and-forth.
Fear of falling foul of the censors — and a conviction that moviegoers prefer easy-to-watch romantic comedies — meant that directors rarely dared to experiment in the past, film critic Le Hong Lam said.
However, he believes that the scene is changing thanks to a new generation of filmmakers, who are pulling audiences along with them, Le added.
“Over the past five years — and especially during the last two — there has been a shift in topics of Vietnamese films,” he said, referencing Le Van Kiet’s Hai Phuong, or Furie, which tells the story of a former gangster thrust back into her past when traffickers kidnap her daughter.
“These show that Vietnamese audiences are open to new topics,” he said. “They are not just coming to cinemas for fun. They want films that make them think.”
Rom, a gritty tale of Ho Chi Minh City street kids working in the illegal lottery business to survive, was another game changer, Le Hong Lam said.
Despite bagging a top prize at the Busan festival last year, the film was fined for screening without approval and took months to clear censorship hurdles — sparking controversy in the media and on social media.
“I think that after this... the censorship board in Vietnam has started to make changes to catch up with modern tastes, not cutting things on a whim like before,” he said.
Rom director Tran Thanh Huy is convinced that a fresh wind is blowing through Vietnamese cinema, but says that it would take more than one film to change the situation.
“It needs a lot of voices and a lot of films to create a real change,” the 30-year-old said. “Then we can talk to censorship authorities about being more open.”
Determined to create innovative films with unconventional narratives, Tran screened a version of Rom at the festival with an ending “open to interpretation,” but was forced into a different, less provocative conclusion by censors.
Still, the movie took US$2 million in its first week in Vietnam, pushing the case for bold storytelling.
Moviegoer Tran Hien Vy, a 21-year-old from Ho Chi Minh City, said that the new approach by directors — and censors — should win over young people.
“The conservative film style cannot make us spend our money and time to go to cinemas,” she said.
Chi Chi Em Em is another example of progress, Uyen said.
“The thing that I feel really happy about is when we sent it to the film censor board, they only asked me to reduce this one love scene by about 30 percent and take out two or three cuss words, and that was it,” she said.
Her film shows events “that happen every day in our lives”, she added. “I don’t think I portrayed anything shocking, but in Vietnam this is new.”
Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said the incoming administration of US president-elect Joe Biden should move quickly to restore lines of communication with China that frayed during US President Donald Trump’s term or risk a crisis that could escalate into military conflict. “Unless there is some basis for some cooperative action, the world will slide into a catastrophe comparable to World War I,” Kissinger said during the opening session of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum. He said military technologies available today would make such a crisis “even more difficult to control” than those of earlier eras. “America and China are
14 GRIEVANCES: Australia’s values, democracy and sovereignty ‘are not up for trade,’ the prime minister said, after Beijing accused Canberra of poisoning bilateral relations Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would not compromise national security and sovereignty, as Beijing ramped up its criticism of his government and warned it against making China an enemy. “Australia will always be ourselves,” Morrison said in a television interview yesterday with the Nine Network. “We will always set our own laws and our own rules according to our national interests — not at the behest of any other nation, whether that’s the US or China or anyone else.” A Chinese diplomat in Canberra gave a document to Australian media outlets outlining 14 grievances and accusing Canberra of “poisoning bilateral
For thousands of years, the dainty Fritillaria delavayi has grown slowly on the rocky slopes of the Hengduan mountains in China, producing a bright green flower after its fifth year. The conspicuous small plant has one deadly enemy: people, who harvest the flower for traditional Chinese medicine. As commercial harvesting has intensified, Fritillaria delavayi has vanished — by rapidly evolving to produce gray and brown leaves and flowers that cannot be so easily seen by pickers. Scientists have discovered that the color of the plant’s leaves has become more camouflaged — matching the background rocks on which they grow — in areas where
On the morning of Oct. 23, a 56-year-old employee at West Japan Railway was inspecting trains when he encountered an Asian black bear just outside Tsuruga Station in Japan’s northwestern Fukui Prefecture. He escaped with just a scratch, but about 10 minutes later, the same bear fractured the leg of a worker at a nearby construction site. Four days before the incident, a male bear entered a four-story shopping center in neighboring Ishikawa Prefecture. The 1.3m-tall bear holed up in a storage room for 13 hours, until it was shot by a local hunting group. Between April and September, wild bears were spotted 13,670