Five Movies To Learn About Vietnamese Culture
We’ve selected five movies for you to watch to discover a Vietnam you’ve never seen before. We’re not talking about the typical Hollywood Vietnam War movies. These movies are beautifully filmed and convey great scenery, amazing landscape and breathtaking aerial shots of Vietnam. Each movie goes in-depth into parts of the Vietnamese culture, history, social issues, and other narratives. Take a read of our top picks!
Scent of the Green Papayas (1993)
This first film by Anh Hung Tran takes places in the early 50’s. It is a story of Mui, a 10 year-old girl who arrives in at family’s door to work as their servant. Mui slowly discovers her new life. The film presents a peaceful atmosphere with the omnipresence of beautiful outdoor shots and a nature-oriented soundtrack.
The second part of the movie takes place 10 years later. We find Mui again, who has became a piano composer’s servant. She is now young adult imprisoned by her situation, trying to emancipate herself through the awakening of her feelings.
More than the narrative, shots of the environment and characters are gorgeous. The director immerses us in a universe of senses through his film style and his professional mastery. Some will find the slowness of the movie difficult to bear when others will find the beauty of it all.
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Cyclo is the story of an 18 year-old Vietnamese man nicknamed after his job ‘Cyclo’. He is a young boy, whose parents have passed away. Everybody in his family needs to work to survive, from his little sister to the elderly grandfather.
The day his cyclo is stolen, the boy falls into the depths of dark Saigon to recover from his debts. He survives many crimes and hangs out with Saigonese thugs. Cyclo primarily spends time with a man nicknamed ‘the poet’ who tries to prostitute Cyclo’s sister. Cyclo is then overcome by revenge and violence.
This movie is also directed by Anh Hung Tran. This time he takes us into the modern Saigon from the 90’s and he shows us a Vietnam of darkness with no morals. He depicts a young Saigonese without a father figure sinking inexorably into a life of crime.
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass (2015)
Thieu, 12 years old, and Tuong, 7 years old, are two brothers living in the Vietnamese countryside. The narrative takes place in the 80’s in a village where people lived in great poverty. Nevertheless, these young brothers will never stop to amaze us. They’re inseparable. Tuong devotes endless admiration and respect for his older brother. Moon, a young girl also shares with them many adventures in their little village.
The characters are able to evoke an overflow of sentiment from viewers. Victor Vu creates a feeling of magic with breathtaking shots and artistic scenery. The movie is filled with great pictures of Phu Yen province’s countryside. And some of the aerial shots are just wonderful and will give you the travel bug to go there to see it through your own eyes.
This movie was adapted from the novel of Nguyễn Nhật Ánh: Tôi thấy hoa vàng trên cỏ xanh.
The Buffalo Boy (2004)
In this movie, you’ll meet Kim, a teenager living in the countryside. His family survives from farming and is dependent on two water buffaloes. With the rainy season, comes the day Kim must move the buffaloes to higher ground due to flooding.
Unfortunately, one buffalo dies during the journey and Kim’s father sends him to work on another farm. Soon he develops a friendship with Ban, a woman working for the farm. And even later, the death of Kim’s father will bring new revelations about his life.
Minh Nguyen-Vo, the director, shoots amazing landscapes for a tale taking place in the mid-20th-century. This overwhelming beauty is contrasted with a real and tough world where the characters live. A reality also made of wonders carried by Kim.
“Ostensibly a coming-of-age story, this languorous, beautifully shot feature debut from Vietnam tells a deceptively simple tale in a deceptively simple fashion.” – The New York Times
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories (2015)
This is a journey in the heart of the Mekong Delta. You will go through a Vietnam you barely know. The characters and setting embody both warm and harsh tones. You will lose yourself in a sublime setting made of softness and violence.
You will find yourself caught up in Vu’s life dilemma. Somewhat introverted, he’s not like others. At the beginning of the movie, you can see this young photographer spending a lot of time in his dark room waiting to develop his photos. The character is accompanied by Thand and Van, who are young, beautiful and want to live their lives as a dream. But this dream takes place in a Vietnam, which is a transforming society. They live in an environment where poverty, corruption and violence is everywhere.
The movie’s characters fully interact with nature: swimming in the banks of the river and mud baths in the mangrove. This combination of beautiful people and landscapes offers an almost tangible sensuality for the viewer. In parallel to this narrative, you witness a youth in the darkness of a nightclub, listening to electro music.
Director Phan Dang Di uses his camerawork to enhance his storytelling. The film all the more successful thanks to the actors, professionals and amateurs, who gave realism to this narrative, reflects a society where youth needs reference, structure, landmarks with an unpredictable future.