Wednesday, November 22, 2006

[Cine.SG] Song of the Stork (Vu Khuc Con Co)

I wasn't the least surprised to see so few people turn up for this screening. It isn't your regular made-in-Singapore movie, but one which is a first-ever Singapore-Vietnam co-production. It doesn't have recognizable local TV stars in any role, and arguably zero publicity about the movie's background in the regular media in the year that it was made. If I recall correctly, it didn't even have a commercial release here.

A movie about war is never easy to make, and one about the Vietnam war not made by the Americans or the French, but a Singaporean media company? Gee, could it be pulled off? Cine.SG listed this film as the first international production that has been allowed into Vietnam to shoot a film about the war. Not even Francis Ford Coppola's epic Apocalypse Now was granted permission mind you. So how did it fare?

Much to my surprise and pleasure, the production values are pretty good, though the storyline doesn't have much to rave about. It's pretty straightforward, and played out at times like a pseudo-documentary, with archived footages of the war put into scene fillers. It follows an introduction by a North Vietnamese war correspondent, Tran Van Thuy, and his journeys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail with his fellow comrades. Interspersed with dramatic retelling of the war and happenings in camp, are mini interviews with Tran himself, as well as an American Vietnam War veteran.

Yes you read that right. While it's about the Vietnam War, the focus here is on the North Vietnamese soldiers, not the usual glorification of the American / South Vietnam view points. While the South does get featured as well, together with its soldiers, they are largely portrayed as lazy and ineffective, often looking after their own personal interests, as opposed to their adversaries, who are committed to the cause, and willing to sacrifice for the good of their fellow men.

Attention to detail is not spared, and I can't help but chuckle on one hand, yet emphatise with soldiers fighting a war given the barest of essentials. Jungle warfare wearing sandals, is no joke. Accompanying the narrative is a hauntingly eerie soundtrack, which fit the movie well, though I won't be one who will listen to it during the dead of the night.

The movie can be easily split into two halves, the first which is about Tran and his journeys, and the second takes a more interesting and sympathetic look at the life of an infiltrator in the South, who sets up family and leads a normal life, until the time comes to rise above and aid his fellow men attacking Southwards. Its romantic theme punches through, and probably personified the suffering of families during times of war, when one is often forced to choose between loyalties for country and family.

It's an interesting film to watch, especially with the viewpoints scarcely seen in films about the Vietnam war. While the war scenes might be a bit amateurish for today's standards, its themes still ring through and true.

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