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Top 20 Vietnamese Films (Part I) September 22, 2010

Posted by Lam in Art, Film, Lam.
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Have you ever tried searching for a list of top Vietnamese films? I have. I often get lists that include titles such as The Lover, The Deer Hunter, We Were Soldiers, Good Morning Vietnam, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, or Apocalypse Now. These are wonderful films, but they weren’t quite what I was looking for. I was looking for movies that showcase the Vietnamese social fabric – our values, our norms, and our history. Simply, I was looking for movies that were made with the Vietnamese audience in mind.

After weeks of searching, I was unable to find such a list. But I did not let this deter my spirit; I’ve decided to create my own list. The list of movies below represents Vietnamese contemporary cinema ranging from 1980s to recent years. Films released in 2010 were excluded from the process because they required more time for audience members and critics to evaluate.

In order to create this list, I’ve started with 50 films and cut it down to 20. Certainly these 50 films are not enough to be representative of the Vietnamese contemporary film era. At the end of the second post, I will include 10 other notable films that did not make the list. If you have other films that you would like to suggest, or if you think that the order should be changed, please provide your feedback.

Here’s the first part of my top 20 list:

20. Trang Noi Day Gieng/ Moon at the Bottom of the Well (2008)

Director: Nguyen Vinh Son

Hanh is a dutiful wife and school teacher in a rural Vietnamese village, who appears to enjoy a happy marriage. Childless, and despairing of ever having children, she insists her husband Phuong, the local school headmaster, take a second wife, to bear him a baby. But in the small village, their secret is impossible to keep for long, and in the ensuing scandal, she and Phuong separate. Following the breakdown of the marriage, we watch as Hanh loses grip of reality and begins to question the very fundamentals of her life. Through a friend, she meets a spiritual guide, in the guise of an enigmatic fortune teller, who sets about transforming the beleaguered Hanh’s life. Through luscious cinematography and evocative, quasi-magical scenes, director Vinh Son Nguyen takes us on Hanh’s journey, dealing with her spiritual awakening and re-birth. [Source]

19. Chuyen Cua Pao/ Story of Pao (2006)

Director: Ngo Quang Hai

Set in a breath-taking primitive landscape in the mountainous provinces of Vietnam, the film tells the story of a Hmong tribe girl named Pao. She was raised by her stepmother, for her real mother left her when she was little. One day, her stepmother dies in an accident, and she begins to track down her birth mother. But her journey turns out to disclose an unsealed sentimental drama of the family in the past. [Source]

18. Thung Lung Hoang Vang/ The Deserted Valley (2000)

Director: Pham Nhue Giang

Pham Nhue Giang’s drama Thung lung hoang vang (The Deserted Valley) is about passion and sex between people at a Vietnamese school. Janitor Tanh (Nguyen Hau) is in love with teacher Giao (Hong Anh), who is involved with Hung (Trung Dung), who is the object of desire for student Mi (Thu Trang). Teacher Minh (Tuyet Hanh) has feelings for Tanh, who is also struggling with a drinking problem and questions about the purpose of his life. [Source]

17. Mua Oi/ The Season of Guavas (2000)

Director: Dang Nhat Minh

A roundabout survey of 30 years of Vietnamese history, veteran director Dang Nhat Minh’s The Season of Guavas is the story of Hoa (Bui Bai Binh), a young man whose brain went slightly soft after he took a fall as a child. He is taken care of by his sister (Nguyen Lan Huong) and is allowed to stay in his state-requisitioned boyhood home by a generous student (Pham Thu Thuy). After the student’s father kicks him out of the house, Hoa is befriended by a peasant girl (Le Thi Huong Thao) who takes him under her wing. [Source]

16. Choi Voi/ Adrift (2009)

Director: Bui Thac Chuyen

Soon after her wedding, newlywed Duyens excitement begins to fade as she realizes her young husband is not only sexually nave, but overly occupied by his job and doting mother. As her marriage goes unconsummated and her emotional isolation grows, she reaches out to her closest girlfriend, Cam, who secretly desires her, but pushes her into the arms of a dangerous and provocative suitor. The resulting sexual awakening and infidelity puts Duyen in a precarious love triangle, challenging her notions of conventional relationships and also the stability of her new family. Saturated with erotic tension, director Bui Thac Chuyens sensuous and absorbing second feature traces the emotional and psychological landscapes of lust and desire, weaving an atmospheric tale of love and life in modern Hanoi. [Source]

15. Thoi Xa Vang/ Elapsed Time (2004)

Director: Ho Quang Minh

Based on the novel of the same name by Le Lu, first published 18 years ago, Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) Ho Quang Minh’s film is an ambitious re-telling of the first part of Le’s novel spanning from the wars for independence to the Communist era. In this portion, a man named Giang Minh Sai (The Quan) is forced to marry Tuyet (Ho Phuong Dung) at the age of ten and leaves his home by the river wharf to live with an old man named Kien. As the war against France accelerates, Sai enlists to fight and falls in love with another woman named Huong. While the affair is fated not to last, Tuyet struggles to keep her marriage together. [Source]

14. Dong Mau Anh Hung/ The Rebel (2006)

Director: Nguyen Charlie

1920s. Vietnam under colonial French ruling. Anti-French rebellions emerge all over the country to disrupt the foreign occupiers. In respond, the colonialist employed units of Vietnamese agents to track and destroy these rebels. The film follows the journey of Le Van Cuong, a French cultured undercover elite. Although branded with a perfect track record, Cuong’s inner conscience is troubled by the sea of Vietnamese blood he had spilled to uphold a French washed ideal. Following an assassination of a high ranking French, Cuong is assigned to seek and kill the notorious leader of the resistance. Cuong encounters Vo Thanh Thuy, a relentless revolutionary fighter and the daughter of the rebel leader. Cuong’s superior intends for him to use Thuy as a mean to get to her father but Cuong soon has feelings for her. Thuy’s patriotism ignites conflicts between Cuong’s consciousness and his cultured faith. Will Cuong discover his inner-self and find love or will he continue his mission? The journey unfolds… [Source]

13. Me Thao – Thoi Vang Bong/ Me Thao – There Was a Time When (2002)

Director: Viet Linh

At the beginning of the 20th century, Nguyen, a rich nobleman in North Vietnam reigns over estate Me Thao, shelters Tam-a talent for music. The police is after Tam because of a murder committed during the recital of singer To. There, Tam is permitted to manage the estate and becomes Nguyen’s devoted friend. Nguyen is in love with a handsome lady from Hanoi. He gives her a car as a gift and organizes a great party to welcome her. She will never reach the estate because she dies in a car accident on the road to Me Thao. Since his loved one died because of industrial civilization, he decides to forbid and destroy all manufactured items in his estate … [Source]

12. Mua He Chieu Thang Dung/ Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000)

Director: Tran Anh Hung

With the brilliant Vietnamese summer as a setting Vertical Ray of the Sun is beautiful from beginning to end. The plot centers around three sisters, two of whom are happily married (or so it appears). The youngest sister is single and living with her cute older brother, whom she is desperately in love with. A second sister is married to a man who has another woman and child elsewhere whom he loves just as much as his wife -with a few conditions, she agrees to carry on with the marriage. The third sister and her husband are overjoyed to discover she is pregnant, and though he is tempted, her husband remains loyal to her. Charming, slow-paced, face value, family saga film. [Source]

11. Cu va Chim Se Se/ Owl and the Sparrow (2007)

Director: Gauger Stephane

A girl who refuses to surrender her optimism despite difficult circumstances brings two unlikely strangers together in this comedy drama from Vietnam. Thuy (Pham Thi Han) is an orphan who, after the death of her parents, has been sent to live with her uncle Tran Le Minh (Nguyen Hau). Tran runs a company that processes bamboo, and he puts Thuy to work in his factory, where’s she puts in long hours and is treated poorly by her uncle and his associates. Convinced life has better things to offer, Thuy runs away to Saigon, and she soon makes friends with a handful of plucky fellow orphans who survive on the street and look out for one another. Thuy supports herself by selling flowers, and during her rounds she meets Hai (Le The Lu), a friendly zookeeper who is looking after a baby elephant that is soon to be sold. Thuy and her friends meet every day at a diner where a boy (Hoang Long) serves the kids soup; another regular at the restaurant is Lan (Cat Ly), a stewardess who takes a liking to Thuy and lets the girl stay with her when she’s in town on layover. Thuy senses that Lan is lonely, much like Hai, and she decides that with a little intervention on her part, Hai and Lan might make a good couple and she could become their adopted daughter. However, Thuy soon learns that matchmaking is a more challenging task than she realized. [Source]

If you are curious about the top 10 films, come back in a week when I will post the second part. In the mean time, why not choose a movie on this list, find it, watch it, and let me know what you think. Happy hunting.

Top 20 Vietnamese Films (Part II)



1. tuan - May 4, 2014

nice list

2. Meathook - January 24, 2014

I recommend “The Beautiful Country”

3. maaike - August 11, 2013

You forgot the most beautiful one… “The scent of the green papaya” – a true gem of a film!

4. Amber - May 11, 2013

I just returned from my first visit to Vietnam and wanted to find films that would showcase the area/people beyond the recent wars. I haven’t viewed any of these yet, but I am excited to!! Thanks to the individual who put this collection together. Wonderful job!!

5. Ed Wallace - April 26, 2011

how can I get in touch with the creator of the 20 best movies…the piece is fantastic…thank you

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