—– Đọc bài tiếng Việt —–
Don’t get me wrong. It is not instant noodle I am talking about. It is Instant Noodle the film, directed by Khoa Trọng Nguyễn, that I want to talk about. It is one of the many feature films screened at the 6th Vietnamese International Film Festival in April 2013.
The film targets young audience as it juxtaposes a young dentist and a headstrong actress in the context of film making in Việt Nam amidst all the actions real and theatrical. The two main characters, together with most of the rest in the film, represent young Vietnamese of the modern time who are struggling career, love and family.
To be honest, the Vietnamese name of the film, Vũ Điệu Đường Cong, as suggested by the producer sounds cheesy and turned me off. But I am glad I stayed and watched it. Talking about an ‘authentic’ Vietnamese movie, Instant Noodle is one of them. More than that, it is a very good one for many reasons. Some of my friends in Việt Nam may not agree with me, but all I can say to them is that Instant Noodle has great conceptual values, among other things. So here is the list.
One: The best thing about Instant Noodle, in my opinion, is that it portrays Vietnamese women as strong and independent, or rather, it does not portray Vietnamese women as victims and ones who are in need of salvation. Everyday witnesses of sisters and aunts, mothers and grandmothers around us flexing their muscles and resorting to their last resource to fight for their family prove that the portrayal is precise. This image, however, has been lacking in most movies done by Việt Kiều or foreigners about Việt Nam. Lan Duong discusses this in her book, and Thuy Linh writes about it in her article.
For someone who spent the first thirty years of her life in Việt Nam, the large part of which time trying to stay away from Vietnamese films because of their lack of substance and taste, I found Instant Noodle refreshing and an allure – all the more so because the film came at an opportune time. It is not news anymore, complaints about family values being on the wane in Việt Nam. And heart-breaking stories of suicidal Vietnamese brides abroad along with trafficked Vietnamese girls abused and enslaved in the brothels in neighboring countries have caused growing outcries in the country. Instant Noodle is doing a great job depicting a realistic model for the Vietnamese girls growing up, growing strong, and growing wise. For this alone, I’d give it a medal.
Two: The English title, Instant Noodle, is totally Vietnamese. It reminds people of a cultural trend in Việt Nam in the 1990s when low budget and cheap taste television shows and movies were mushrooming. Part of this culture is still present today and dealt with by Khoa in his movie.
Three: The Vietnamese language used in the film is authentic Vietnamese used by ordinary people you encounter in Việt Nam. It is straightforward and unpretentious. If I close my eyes and listen, I will be taken back to the time I was surrounded by Vietnamese loved ones; I can clearly recognize that the movie is cast with Vietnamese people, is about Vietnamese people, and portrays Vietnamese thinking and behavior – I can almost see their mannerism in my mind. This is in contrast to some other films in which the language used is Vietnamese but spoken with a strange accent interspersed with a superfluity of Chinese-Vietnamese to the point I’d think myself watching a Hong Kong or Chinese movie, either with my eyes open or closed.
Four: The humor in Instant Noodle is clean, at the same time very Vietnamese. An example in case involves the gay assistant. His language, acting, and behavior are very much feminized the way Vietnamese people think about gays. These, in American standard, could probably be seen as overacting, but they are exactly the things ordinary Vietnamese think funny and can laugh along. In Vietnamese standard, it is not too dramatic. After all, an element of comedy is very commonly achieved by bordering on stereotypes and overacting.
Five: Entertaining value is high in Instant Noodle. The audience had a chance to laugh from the beginning to the end. The gay behavior is funny ha-ha, the dentists are funny nerdy, the old couples are funny flirtatious, the old husband is funny honey, etc. Both their language and acting reflect Vietnamese thought and behavior patterns. And, as tears of joy are shed, tears of sorrow follow.
Experience of death and regret is registered by the protagonist, the dentist. On receiving news of his mom’s passing away, he darted home, to be received by father at the door. The old one could hardly be vocal. Shaking his head in distraught, his face twisted in pain, he gave the young one a big hug. And they both cried. Minimization of words and actions, maximization of facial expression, the right close-up angle, and the somber atmosphere of the evening literally brought tears to the audience’s eyes. It is a wonderful moment to be able to laugh and cry with a movie.
Six: Kudos to the director for the creative interpretation of belly dancing. As he explained during the Q&A session, belly dancing does not require a partner thus a good symbolic language to use to depict the changes in the development of the modern generation of Vietnamese women who are very independent and successful and who can totally be happy on their own.
Seven: Topical social and cultural issues are infused in the film to reflect modern Việt Nam and to give the audience points to think about. Other than homosexuality, modernity is the point to drive home to the viewers. The pace of life in current-day Việt Nam is so fierce young people are too absorbed in their work to think about visiting their parents. Regret is all they have left at the realization of the parent’s passing. It is also this speed of life that sucks people into the vicious circle of work and money-making and that makes it easy for them to forget other important things in life such as human relationship and true happiness. Fortunately, our dentist receives his wake-up call in time to save his relationship with the belly dancer and takes a firm grip on his happiness in life so that he does not have to regret for the rest of his life.
Eight: Instant Noodle is very believable.
In Vietnamese folk songs, there is one called “Ten Things I Love About You” (Mười thương) the numeric pattern of which I am trying to emulate. Given the limitation of the page, let us stop at number eight.
The Vietnamese version of this article has been published by the Vien Dong Daily News. Read the Vietnamese version here.