Tuesday, July 07, 2015

New Vietnamese Cinema ’15: Scandal

Given the controversy that once embroiled filmmaker Victor Vu, the title of his subsequent signature franchise is certainly apt. Charges that his 2010 picture Inferno bears suspicious similarities to Wolfgang Petersen’s Shattered have not slowed down his career much from an outsider’s vantage point, while Petersen was probably just shocked anyone remembers Shattered. Regardless, his flashy exploration of fame, jealousy, and media gossip-mongering will upend many people’s preconceptions of Vietnamese film. Fittingly, Vu’s Scandal (trailer here) screens during the 2015 edition of New Vietnamese Cinema at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Y Linh is an up-and-coming model-actress, who finally starts realizing her superstar dreams after her marriage to entrepreneur Hoang Kiet. Her first films are blockbusters directed by the Spielberg-esque Le Hung and produced by the slimy Thien. Unfortunately, everything changes when her husband meets the home-wrecking singer-model, Tra My. Soon Thien is openly carrying on with Tra My, who also steals the movie roles Y Linh was expecting. To make matters worse, she starts suffering from mystery maladies traditional doctors cannot diagnose, but witch doctors recognize only too well. Concluding Tra My placed a curse on her, Y Linh fights back the only place she can—in the press.

To an extent, one can hear echoes of the Jolie-Aniston tabloid affair in Scandal, but the alleged black magic adds an entirely new wrinkle, at least as far as we know. Despite all the Vietnamese film industry awards it racked up, Scandal is not exactly high art. It is glitzy, glossy, and often shamelessly lurid. Of course, all that scandalous behavior makes good trashy entertainment.

Vân Trang and Mai Thu Huong (a.k.a. Maya) embrace their inner divas as Y Linh and Tra My, respectively. Frankly, it is just a lot of fun to watch them rage at each other. Khuong Ngoc and Mihn Thuan are not exactly shy hamming it up as the director and producer, either. Clearly, this is not a business or a film for shrinking violets.

Vu direction is slicker than slick, while cinematographer Nguyen K’Linh gives it all a stylishly noir sheen. In fact, Vu manages to pull off a rather clever bit of misdirection, thanks to the many extravagant distractions. The sensationalistic melodrama proved so popular it spawned a thematic sequel that will also screen as part of the 2015 New Vietnamese Cinema series. Recommended for those who appreciate vicariously indulgent morality tales, Scandal 1 screens this Thursday (7/9) and Friday (7/10) at the Honolulu Museum of Art, as part of their annual celebration of Vietnamese film.