It was a little surprise that I had never heard about such Vietnamese film, yet taken from a foreign friend. After that, I figured out that “Cyclo” was released in 1995, winning the Golden Lion at the 52nd Venice International Film Festival. The film, however, has been banned in Vietnam for more than two decades – as what the press jargonizes as “in disrepair”.
Tran Anh Hung & his banned movie
It was a rare morning that Ipoh (Malaysia) wasn’t very sultry. I woke up early to have a walk with my hostel mates to a roughly 3km away market (which was a rarely diligent doing of mine as well). Strolling beside Iwona a Polish girl who stood a full 22cm taller than me, we rambled from the study of a new language to the history of division between East Germany and West Germany. All along those patchy stories a Vietnamese movie that Iwona got impressed with was mentioned. Titled “Cyclo” which was directed by Tran Anh Hung, the film tells about human fates floating in Saigon under the socio-economic transition of renovation (Doi Moi) initiated in 1986.
It was a little surprise that I had never heard about such Vietnamese film, yet taken from a foreign friend. After that, I figured out that “Cyclo” was released in 1995, winning the Golden Lion at the 52nd Venice International Film Festival. The film, however, has been banned in Vietnam for more than two decades – as what the press jargonizes as “in disrepair”. Thus the information about it was “marooned” and not disseminated as other works of Tran Anh Hung like “The Scent of Green Papaya” (1993) or “The Vertical Ray of the Sun” (2000). Let leave all sort of political and ethical reasons for this ban behind, though subjective or objective. This and other related posts will only focus on my perceptiveness of “Cyclo” content following 2 hours of watching it.
Tran Anh Hung didn’t enable any characters in “Cyclo” to be identified by name. The audience gotta remember those via the figures, emotions, sentiments and stories of each of them:
Le Van Loc) lives with his grandfather who repairs bicycle tires, an elder sister who carries water and a little sister who goes to school in the morning and shines shoes in the afternoon for their living. He takes over the “heirloom” job from his father as a cyclo driver. The rental cyclo he has been driving is stolen while he is peeing. To repay his lady employer for the robbed cyclo, he joins her subordinate gang and commits stealing, arson, witnesses an execution, carts illegal drugs concealed under raw pork layers, etc.
A pimp (starring: Tony Leung Chiu-wai) who smokes at all times is in charge of the gang under the lady employer’s wing and is in multi-dimensional intimate relationships with that lady, the cyclo driver’s elder sister and some other prostitutes. He has feelings for the boy’s sister, but still uses her for prostitution in the transactions that do not hurt her hymen.
The cyclo driver’s elder sister (starring: Nu Yên-Khê Tran) initially earns a living by carrying water. Falling in love with the pimp, she obeys him to become a money making tool in the sex industry. As a virgin, she is assigned to serve men who have fetishes without resorting to intercourse (one likes to watch women pee standing up, one likes to wash women’s feet, etc.)
The cyclo owner (starring: Nhu Quynh Nguyen) gets pregnant with her boyfriend when they are 16 or 17 years old. He leaves her. Their child is retarded, about the cyclo driver’s age and still fond of lying on his mom’s lap with his open mouth like a gaping fish, for which she endearingly calls him “my fish”.
Life of the Saigonese
The film highlights some settings in which the life of Saigonese is marked. The identical windows picture diverse life scenes. The naive children are observing strangers. The young men are laboring with their bony bare backs. The women are being occupied with scads of dirty dishes. The two amputees are strumming and singing for money. The sounds of honking on streets, singing, eating, drinking, shoe-shining, flaring fire in the kitchen and so on are blending in a dusk, damp atmosphere.
“Through an aged jetty petals were dimming
In pale sunbeam serene leaves were swinging
Down went my footsteps blank to the hamlet
Intensely a dovelike damsel I missed
Missed you that slender of a bygone day
Mildly eying me with a sparkling gaze
Missed your pace when the sun laid on front steps
Your ivory cheeks where your hair laid at”
The song used in the said scene: “Evening sun”