Wednesday, August 12 2020


The need to address an ‘historical' failure

Update: February, 04/2015 - 08:48

Chi Lan

History is in the making, and how!

Selfies produced with a new smartphone application that allows one to make-up as famous characters with distinguishing marks have flooded Facebook pages in the country recently.

People from all walks of life – famous singers, actresses, "hot" icons as well as young boys and girls just having fun –have used the app to show themselves as characters from Chinese classics, highlighted with a lotus-inspired mark on their foreheads.

The mark and the makeover of the app is designed to match those of Wu Zetian, heroine of the blockbuster Chinese drama, The Empress of China, that has been the most watched series on every single Vietnamese film website for over a month since its first broadcast in late December.

"I love the drama because the entire cast is very beautiful and the plot is quite well written," said 22-year-old medical student Nguyen Thi Phuong.

And merely by watching the drama, she has naturally learnt historical facts about China's Tang dynasty and Wu Zetian, the only empress in Chinese history. "They (the facts) are in my head without trying," Phuong said.

Chinese history is not the only knowledge that entertainment programmes are providing Vietnamese viewers.

Since the first broadcast in 2004 of the blockbuster A jewel in the Palace, based on the true story of the first woman to be a supreme royal physician, a series of South Korean historical movies and dramas have been shown on Vietnamese television, providing strong competition to Chinese films and soap operas.

"Yes I know the history of China and South Korea mostly through their films," said Phuong.

What about Vietnamese history?

"Not a clue," she said, shaking her head with marked unconcern.

Cultural invasion

Phuong's relatively greater knowledge of Chinese and Korean history is not an isolated case.

After several decades of watching Chinese historical dramas, and more than a decade of those from Korea that have been continuously broadcast on VTV's national television channels, the other 63 provincial channels as well as on cable TV, it has become natural for Vietnamese youth to absorb the histories of our eminent Asian neighbours.

Huang Junxi, a Chinese resident here, said historical films were a strong supplement to his classes at school, giving him a good knowledge of his country's history.

A similar convenience has been denied by Vietnamese audiences.

Vietnamese historical feature films, far from teaching the nation's history, are barely able to reach their audiences.

Last year, Song Cung Lich Su (Living with History), had to bow out of theatres after a few days failing to sell enough tickets.

The State-funded VND21 billion (US$1 million) movie was one of the most expensive historical film projects in the nation to date, but audience numbers in theatres struggled to reach two digits.

While director Nguyen Thanh Van blamed the movie's failure on the lack of marketing, audiences thought that it was just a part of the problem.

"Song Cung Lich Su still goes along with the same themes of an unrealistic plot, old-fashioned lines and illogical twists. It is not a surprise that the audiences are not interested," said Pham Hong Anh, who saw the film, and is an avid film-goer.

These are typical weaknesses of the genre of historical movies in Viet Nam, it appears.

The 2012 production, Thien Menh Anh Hung (Blood Letter), is considered a rare success, grossing VND20 billion ($952,000) in 11 days after its release.

"The PR work for Thien Menh Anh Hung was done well, and it attracted a lot of viewers to the cinemas. However, I, and many of friends, were still disappointed with the quality of movie," Anh said, adding, "It could not match those of China or South Korea at all."

Historian Tran Duc Anh Son, former director of the Hue Museum of Royal Fine Arts, had two words to describe the genre of Vietnamese historical films: "Too bad."

Asked to elaborate, he said: "There are a lot of mistakes in the scripts, and almost no director seems to have a proper knowledge of Vietnamese history.

"I think educating audiences on the nation's history via films is a great idea but Vietnamese historical movies still have a long way to go."

Until then, we'll educate ourselves on Chinese and Korean history, which is good, but if it is happening in tandem with ignorance of our own, it is bad, and sad.

I hope the next Vietnamese historical film or drama series makes positive history at the box office.

In the long run, it always pays to remember the adage about what happens to those who refuse to learn from history. — VNS


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