Operation Greenlight

Cinema Symposium 5 (UCLA)

I had the chance to take a peek into the world of Vietnamese Cinema this past weekend.

The panel consisting of Danny Do, Kieu Chinh, Minh Duc Nguyen, Nghiem-Minh Nguyen-Vo, Mark Tran, and Nadine Truong opened my eyes into the emergence and advancement of not only Vietnamese filming but culture. The value of film as a new medium into the culture is a delicate process that I believe many of the new filmmakers are gradually losing touch with.  Filmmakers are artists, craftsmen of their vision and storytellers. Vietnamese-American filmmakers however aim to put forth the ideals of Vietnamese culture in their films.

During the panel, the speakers discussed how the form needs to be appreciated by every culture, and not just the Vietnamese. Chinh listed examples such as “Slumdog Millionaire,” a famous Indian film that was created for an audience beyond India; it was created for a whole world. She explained how it became international with the anchor and cultural push of India.

Chinh spoke gracefully, her open-minded thoughts and knowledge made her easy to listen to. Through war she was able to maintain her culture, heritage, and acting aspirations.

She described that many young Vietnamese filmmakers entering the business, go into a different world then she remembers, instead they enter into a new Vietnamese- American movie world, not necessary the old world she was used to. “It is a new life, a new international community, more mixture.”

There was a lot of discussion about “making a film for the world” as Nguyen-Vo describes it “a community at large, a much bigger meaning.” While Tran focuses on digital advancement and different forms of storytelling. “Film is what you make out of it.” The new generation of Vietnamese-American filmmakers are prosperous, and have a large open and exciting world ahead of them. One day I do believe that Vietnamese-Americans will break out in the industry one day. Perfecting their craft as storytellers rather than budgeters or marketers is a challenge, as I watched the panel most of the questions and discussion came across as external. They gave the perception that film only revolved around more issues of budget, audience outreach, and marketing rather than art.

Operation Greenlight as the event was dubbed however seemed to me like a remake of the specialized overplayed, fast paced technique that American film makers tend to embrace and often overuse. The trailers I watched appeared to be Vietnamese personas of American culture. I feel like they have lost touch with the value of Vietnamese artistry and fell into American Hollywood hype.

New Vietnamese filmmakers following the air of American Hollywood that all their films are beginning to lose touch with Vietnamese culture. The panels spent a large amount of time discussing movie budgets but the underlying matter that many of these young filmmakers do not mention is that a lot of large budgets go into the need for a good-looking film, rather than artistic expression.

Vietnamese films have transformed from being symbolic expressions of our culture into imitations of American Hollywood. Which I think it’s a true loss, films like Slumdog Millionaire stay to their Bollywood roots, while many of the trailers I witnessed in the panel appeared to be very Hollywood.

-Catherine Vu

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  1. Before we hold up Slumdog Millionaire as a model for the kind of films young Vietnamese filmmakers should strive to produce, it is important to acknowledge that Slumdog is not necessarily a “famous Indian film,” but a famous film about India. Without the direction and influence of Danny Boyle, the screenplay adaption written by Simon Beaufoy, and the UK production company Celador Films, I don’t think Slumdog could have achieved the massive success that it did. In this way, I don’t think Slumdog can be described as staying true to its Bollywood roots if it is not a strictly Bollywood production.

    Also, I think there may be a more positive way to interpret the trend in Vietnamese films today to try to emulate Hollywood. If film functions as a medium by which audiences may gain insight into the ideals of Vietnamese culture, then perhaps the desire to emulate Hollywood—in film as well as in fashion—suggests that it is the ideals of Vietnamese culture, and not necessarily the filmmakers who are charged to represent these ideals, that are changing.

  2. It seems strange for me to hear that “Slumdog Millionaire” is set as an example of success for promoting Indian culture worldwide when the film was made by an English filmmaker (Danny Boyle) and was not well received in India at all. “Slumdog Millionaire” may have more in common with Vietnamese-American or Vietnamese diasporic films than you suggest. Three Seasons, Scent of Green Papaya, and others were seen as successful overseas but not in Vietnam. Furthermore, “Slumdog Millionaire” was more Hollywood than Bollywood. There weren’t really any dancing scenes and the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl story is more American than Indian where usually there are parents involved and more complex love triangles that those depicted in that film. But, I think you are right that Vietnamese filmmakers are still trying to find their voice and maintain something Vietnamese while appealing to larger audiences.


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