Manual Between Sacrifice and Desire: National Identity and the Governing of Femininity in Vietnam

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Hofstede Dimension Between Malaysia and Vietnam

Forgot your password? Forgot password? Old Password. New Password. Password Changed Successfully Your password has been changed. Returning user. Request Username Can't sign in? Few Western viewers, least of all French ones, would have thought of the colonial period in Indochina as one of invasion. The familiar tropes of colonialism emphasize the civilizing project in Indochina, as depicted in numerous texts and films [Norindr ].

The Rebel turns these ideas upside down: the French are shown as ruthless exploiters, and the Vietnamese as brave nationalist resistance fighters—which of course is the world- view shared by contemporary Vietnamese. Hamilton film likewise subvert the expectations of Western audiences but also move beyond the familiar tropes of traditional Vietnamese nationalist narratives. Near the beginning of the film, Cuong is seen in the room of a prostitute, a young woman who has tender feelings for him but whom he leaves with a casual gesture and a cash payment.

Cuong catches sight of her before she disappears. Soon we see the same young woman on the roof of a building, throwing leaflets down into the street. She is the daughter of the rebel leader. The French Minister is in a car below. A battle ensues in which he and many others are killed. He falls, but the young woman suddenly appears with a knife and stabs the French official to death.

This scene establishes the parameters of a reading of feminine agency as able to Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 19 March bridge traditional gender expectations and modern potentials. The young woman appears in a traditional guise, wearing her graceful costume with her hair beauti- fully done, but within moments demonstrates a wholly unexpected ability to par- ticipate in what amounts to a guerilla action that includes stabbing a high official.

Where the prostitute in the opening scene is helplessly unable to do anything other than accede to her fate and sadly take money from Cuong, the young rebel woman is highly skilled, determined, strong and able to carry out a mission of assassination. This long sequence, and following ones which show her suffering in jail, demonstrate her commitment to a national cause and her determination to resist fierce enemies.

From this point forward in the film, it remains possible that everything he does is aimed at getting her to reveal the location of her father; but as the story progresses, their relationship becomes a stronger one, and ultimately intimate. He represents the colonized who places himself at the bidding of his French masters, but only for the purpose of an ultimate mimesis.


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He is determined to assert his own equality with the French, expecting that he will be able to supplant the French com- mander if only he can bring in the rebel leader. His fundamental need is to overcome the inferiority of his Vietnamese identity by appropriating the power which is held by the French leader of his unit. The latter understands well enough the colonialist game he is playing with Sy, emphasizing on several occasions that Sy is the son of a prostitute with no family respectability.

His enmity against Cuong is unalloyed, although there is also a certain ambiguous attraction between them: two young men determined to assert their own power, joined at first by their identification with the French but separated by the sense of national- ism which Cuong is led into through the agency of the young woman. Cuong and the rebel heroine, together with a few survivors, undertake what seems likely to be a suicidal mission to rescue her father from the train on which the French have placed him under the guard of scores of armed soldiers.

Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 19 March In spite of all odds they manage to free her father, and in the process Cuong and the girl are forced to engage in an extended, graphical fight scene against Sy who finally, after inflicting terrible wounds on both of them, is killed when she manages to thrust a bayonet through his body.

They return to the village with her father, and carry out rituals to honor the dead Vietnamese villagers who have fought so bravely against the hundreds of armed French. The dead are presum- ably cremated, and in the last scene of the film Cuong and the girl pass over the lovely still waters of the river, scattering the ashes.

Shadowboxing with the Censors: A Vietnamese Woman Directs the War Story

The male hero is transformed, not through his own need to demonstrate his masculinity through overcoming enemies alongside his buddies, but through his discovery of the evils of colonialism and his auth- entic national identity as a result of his transformation by a young woman.

The young woman, although willing to have sex with him, is very far from a prostitute, but rather the free and equal partner who is dedicated to saving her father and to waging a guerilla war against the invading colonial powers. Her abilities are dedicated to a political as well as a familial goal. Sy, the vicious and confused traitor to his national identity, in spite of his own cunning, skill and physical prowess, is betrayed by the French father-figure it is made clear that he has no father early in the film , and has to kill him finally to free himself from his own unachievable desire for liberation through identification.

His own death seems to come as a surprise to him, inflicted as it is by a young woman whose faith and dedication to her nation and to her family have seen her triumph against every adversity and find love in the process. Hamilton The Rebel then presents a way of seeing transformations in gender and identity as possible for both men and women seeking to overcome oppressive social conditions.

Reward Yourself

Many aspects of the film hark back to earlier preoccupations in Vietnamese cinema: the warrior-heroine defending her country, the obligation of filial piety towards the father expressed for both the main characters, while Sy has no father ; the participation of brave villagers in the protection of the rebel- lion and their almost complete sacrifice; the shedding of hybrid identities Western clothing, habits, values in the search for an authentic Vietnamese autonomy.

Though clearly influenced by Western film practice and Holly- wood, they nevertheless hold to a distinctive style, deeply marked by national histories and cultural characteristics. The hundreds of Thai films made in the past decade could never be mistaken for Vietnamese films, or vice versa. The continued presence of a subsidized national film industry based in government-run studios provides an on-going cinematic context challenging the independent filmmakers who receive no government funding, while commercial Western and Eastern films compete for viewers and their ticket prices.

Rather, layers of external influence, propelled by imperialist and colonialist impulses, as well as modernization U. What generalizations can be made regarding representation and exploration of gender under such circumstances? There seems to be an uneasy truce between tra- ditional gender expectations and efforts to promote a more individualistic and egalitarian conception. This does not sit comfortably with Vietnamese official culture, or with calls for reversion to a more traditional representation of gender relations, but expresses the contradictions of the period and the need to meet the requirements of an audience both inside the country and inter- nationally.

The challenges of sustaining a Vietnamese vision and sensibility, and finding a way to broker the new gender relations emerging in the late Doi moi era, remain substantial and the outcomes unpredictable.

Table of Contents: Gender practices in contemporary Vietnam /

Charlot [] provides the most accessible and comprehensive account of Vietnamese film history to that date. He represented a consortium of U. See also Ngo Phuong Lan [, ]. This article does not claim to offer a comprehensive analysis of this very complex topic, which would require a book-length discussion. An extensive literature on Vietnamese women, family relations, effects of colonialism and socialism, incorpor- ation into labor and industry and contemporary state policies is required to traverse fully the complexities of gender on film.

Apart from Charlot [], many published papers deal in part with aspects of Vietnamese film history, although a comprehensive account remains to be written. Some writers compare Doi moi with the Russian term glasnost, but this is not parti- cularly helpful as glasnost referred more to ideological transformation whereas Doi moi refers to the idea of building new structures over earlier ones, an accurate concept given that free-market style changes lie over existing political structures.

Some in Vietnam compare Doi moi to the process of adding new upper stories on a house, a common practice in Vietnamese architecture. By comparison with the situation in the early s. Many problems remain, and corrupt practices among officials and others are widely alleged. Vietnam is also highly vulnerable to external factors such as the rise in oil prices in and the broader global downturn which has affected tourist demand. The government became concerned about the impact of diaspora Vietnamese film- makers and attempted to prevent them making films locally in By then however several films had been made to considerable acclaim, and so the decision was overturned.

See note 4, above. Hamilton structure, two of which are inherently incompatible, while neither is appropriate to the development of an individualistic capitalist subjectivity. Further discussion using this analytic frame is being undertaken in another paper. Hirschman and Loi [] discuss bilateral kinship and the status of women in traditional Vietnam.

Turner and Phan [] provide a detailed account of the role of women in North Vietnam during the war. Dang Nhat Minh is a senior figure in Vietnamese filmmaking, whose films span decades of Vietnamese history. He is well versed in Western film aesthetics, being especially affected by Italian neorealism and the French New Wave.

He has been secretary of the Vietnam Cinema Association and has promoted filmmaking as a central artistic and cultural value. The changed climate permitting such films to emerge has also prompted recent scholarly comment. Norindr [] has published a short piece on contemporary Vietnamese cinema, with a particular focus on Bar Girls. This film is not currently in international circulation.

There are numerous online references to the film. I wish to thank Jimmy Pham for briefly discussing various aspects of its production and other matters. Western viewers are most familiar with the film Indochine [] which glamorizes the French colonial period through a trite love story. Although this may seem to have much in common with Hollywood action films, the primary relationship in such films is usually between the action hero and a heroine who in the course of the film becomes loyal to him personally, so that their coupling becomes crucial to the plot.

Often enough the woman is killed well before the end of the film, and the male hero is then free to pursue vengeance. In The Rebel, the hero has to give up loyalties to his own patriline, which has been compromised by its adoption of the culture of the colonizers. Invulnerability is commonly associated with the highest levels of martial arts training, arising from enhanced spiritual development.

The film does not offer any explanation for this, but all viewers familiar with martial arts film traditions would well recognize the allusions being made here. The issue of autonomy through a confirmation of the significance of the historical past is a common theme throughout Vietnamese cinema.

Its relevance under contemporary conditions, with Western impacts especially through media, fashion and gender issues, requires a separate discussion. A systematic comparison between Southeast Asian films of the past decade would be necessary to determine the extent to which historical and political factors have created commonalities or differences between them, against the background of a common circulation of Hollywood, Hong Kong and Korean film throughout the region during this period. New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bhaba, Homi Nation and Narration. London and New York: Routledge. Hue Tam-Ho Tai, ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 33— Singapore: Singapore University Press. Drummond, Lisa, and Mandy Thomas, eds. London: Routledge Curzon. Pacific Affairs, 68 2 : — Southeast Asian Research, 14 2 : — Pacific Affairs, 69 2 : — In The Mass Media in Vietnam. David G. Marr, ed. Canberra: Australian National University. Luong, Hy V. Luong, ed. Lanham, Md. Genders, 10 Spring : 47— Lisa Drummond and Mandy Thomas, eds. Norindr, Panivong Phantasmatic Indochina.

Ann Ciecko, ed. Oxford: Berg. New York: Routledge.

Zohra Orchestra

Hue-Tam Ho Tai, ed. Kathleen Barry, ed. Turner, Karen G. New York: Wiley. In Cinema, Law and the State in Asia. Corey K. Creekmuir and Mark Sidel, eds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Some sources list different directors.