Long-legged Girls (2004), Vũ Ngọc Đãng

Widely considered as the first Vietnamese movie that depicts same-sex affair, Long-legged Girls (2004), or Những cô gái chân dài, directed by Vũ Ngọc Đãng, is definitely worth the attention of any queer cinema enthusiasts.

So far as I am aware, this is also the first Vietnamese film that incorporates the female gaze. Within only a few seconds from the start, there comes the nude showering scene of a 20-year-old male model. This must be an intentional tactic to accommodate the taste of women viewers and lend the film a more commercial appeal, which could also be seen in Lost in paradise (2011).

In her essay Long-Legged Girls and the Transnational Circuits of Vietnamese Popular Culture, Lan Duong says that these objectifying images of young men and the depiction of gay desire effectively tests the boundaries of gendered behaviors and sexual norms of Vietnamese film industry.

It demonstrates how queer subjects in Vietnam, marked by class and always restricted as hetero-normative national subjects in the public space, are negotiating the prospect of cultural visibility and performing gender in different spaces.

To be honest, I was sexually aroused to the baby-butt smooth body of Hoàng (Minh Anh) when I watched this movie for the first time. However, it took me a while to latch on the behaviors of Khoa (Trương Thanh Long). At the age of 14, when “homosexuality” was still so strange of a concept to me, I did not even bother wondering what was going on between the two male characters. But when I watched it again many years later, especially after my first straight crushes, I could finally relate to Khoa’s feeling, and I think Trương Thanh Long had delivered it quite well, with a subtly exquisite acting level that hardly any other actors playing a gay man role have ever been able to reach.

to be continued

goodbye-mother-2019-by-trinh-dinh-le-minh

Goodbye mother (2019) by Trịnh Đình Lê Minh

It would be better if the art designer took such typewriter out of the shelf and the photos of the 90s celebrities off the wall. The travelling show (typically known as “lô tô” or “hội chợ” in Vietnam) is not a dancing club, and an old lady with Alzheimer does not necessarily act as if she got Schizophrenia. In short, many representations are inauthentic and need more meticulous research.

However, the important details are really on point: the stealth of physical intimacy between the two protagonists, the pressure they suffer from the unpleasant questions of the local folks about their personal life choices, the glumness in the eyes of Ian when Văn’s grandma confides to him that she wants Văn to get married with a woman.

There is also another subtle and sensible detail: Văn has to set the alarm to wake up in the midnight and climb up to his bed, so that his family do not see them sleeping with each other in the morning.

Fortunately, there is no whining, no explicit social criticism or backward conversations in the dialogues. This is the flaws of many previous Vietnamese gay-themed movies.

To me, this is so far the only movie that points straight to the complicated situation of gay men in rural area of Vietnam. Facing with the expectations of parents, the patriarchal tradition that regulates a man’s decision of marriage and having children, the frustration of living differently in a collective culture, the lack of privacy in the countryside, the generation gap and even knowledge gap, all of them are interwoven and are the burden which makes coming out hurtful to all the parties.

And usually, people like Văn will choose to stay in closet, put off indefinitely the attempt to come out, until the day when they have got to passively reveal the truth.

A gay man who grows up in the countryside, yet immerses himself in the consideration of his identity and the world surrounding him, sooner or later, has to step over the threshold of liberty and leave behind the painful past. He feels helpless and cannot let his beloved ones who are still backward understand his choice, for the gap between them is irreversible.

The ending is an incomplete, reluctant acceptance of unchangeable reality, and that is also how life actually is to people like Văn in this country.