Wuxia, Anime, K-dramas, and…

China has its wuxias, Korea its k-drama, and Japan its anime. What is Vietnam's great media export going to be? Can we build a culture of V-drama?


 

Phi tuyet lien thien xa bach loc
Tieu thu than hiep y bich uyen

Shooting a white deer, snow flutters around the skies
Smiling, one writes about the divine chivalrous one,
leaning against bluish lovebirds

For those who have not already recognized the previous lines, the couplet is a clever mnemonic to recall Jin Yong’s (Kim Dung’s) works.  One can argue that Jin Yong’s, along with Gu Long’s, works are the most well-known and well-loved wuxia stories of present times.  Their works not only have been made into numerous films, television series, comics, and video games adaptations in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and the United States, but have also influenced everyday language amongst the populations within these regions.

Similarly, Japan can boast of both their hand-drawn as well as computer-animated “anime.”  Their popularity throughout East and Southeast Asia, along with various communities around the world has resulted in well-attended conventions, such as Fanime, Anime Expo, Animethon, Otakon, and JACON.  From Korea, there are the romantic and romantic comedies known as K-dramas, which have led to “Drama Fever” amongst the Asian communities as well as that of Latin America and the Middle East.  Today’s youth are taking so-called “Korean family portraits” because they are considered “cool.”

So, what about Vietnam?  Do the Vietnamese have something comparable to their East Asian counterparts?

A quick visit to D-Addicts revealed only a handful of drama Vietnamese series, such as the following:

Snow in the Tropic (Tuyet Nhiet Doi)
Suddenly I Want to Cry (Bong Dung Muon Khoc)
Fight of the Roses (Cuoc Chien Hoa Hong)
A Love Story in the Advertising Company (Truyen Tinh Cong Ty Quang Cao)

But, are these television series as alluring as “Legend of the Condor Heroes,” “My Girl,” “Naruto,” “The Adventures of Chor Lau Heung,” “Boys Over Flowers,” or “Pokemon”?  Arguably, the answer is “no.”  But, why is that?  Are Vietnamese television series lacking something?

Let’s take for example the three-episode mini-series “Porcelain” (“Manh Ghep Cuoc Doi”).  The story features an independent female lead, a hard-to-please boss, and a mysterious connection to a centuries-old maiden.  So, what is missing?

It is originality?  The series did quote Jin Yong’s lines multiple times, but this can be attributed to his works having impacted daily sayings.  Porcelain’s use of flashbacks to 17th century events to coincide with the story’s present-day happenings does resemble that in Hu Ge’s “The Myth.”  However, flashbacks are commonly used for dramatic impact, such as in Lost, which utilized flashbacks, flashforwards, and flashsideways.  And, yes, the female lead is involved in a typical love-triangle where she has feelings for one man who seemingly do not cherish her while another man appears to be her ideal lover.  Nonetheless, love-triangles/other-polygons/circles can be named in countless television series.

So, it is uniqueness?  Wuxia are known for action-packed sequences, while K-dramas are known for tragic love endings.  Where is the niche for Vietnamese dramas?  What are V-dramas known for?

Is it necessary for Vietnamese dramas to show something different?  Wuxia, sa geuk, and jidaigeki are fictionalized dramatizations of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese history respectively.  They usually have elaborate costumes, sets, and special effects.  Martial arts, sword fighting, and horsemanship are musts.  And yet, though all three genres are extremely similar, wuxia,  sa geuk, and jidaigeki are all able to draw numerous viewers.

What can V-dramas boast?


  • Tino

    Great post Jenny. You ask an important question—what is distinctive about Vietnamese culture? One can see the impact that the ‘Korean wave’ on boosting the prestige, popularity, and markets of Korea and Koreans worldwide. It would be great if we had an equivalent cultural export. It will likely come through the collaboration of local and overseas Vietnamese and could actually unite Vietnamese worldwide. Though ‘Paris by Night’ and the Little Saigon entertainment industry are fine, they don’t seem to cater to non-Vietnamese audiences. I think we can do better. 

    • JKD

      Hi Tino,

       

      Thank you
      very much for your thoughts.  Equivalent
      cultural export(s) most likely will be the result of overseas and native
      Vietnamese collaboration.  Johnny Tri
      Nguyen’s and Vanessa Ngo Thanh Van’s recent works are obvious examples of this
      collaboration.  However, I do look
      forward to a refreshingly distinct “Viet wave” – perhaps the traditional
      Vietnamese outfit (ao dai), per se, will be the new international fashion trend
      or straw hat dance (mua non) will be featured on “So You Think You Can Dance.”  Maybe, fish sauce (nuoc mam) will be commonly
      used as soy sauce or tabasco sauce or Vietnamese opera (cai luong) performed in
      English will be considered “cool” and not just considered comedic as was
      presented in Paris by Night by Manh Quynh.

  • Jonathan

    I just wish I could find a source to download or purchase these native Vietnamese shows so I could watch them in the USA! The stuff coming from California is ok, but I’d really like access to these types of shows, and shows like My Magical Family (gia dinh phep thuat) for my son.

    • JKD

      Hi
      Jonathan,

       

      Thank you for
      commenting.  I am not too sure about
      sources where you can purchase these series. 
      However, there are plenty of online sources where you can watch and/or
      download Vietnamese shows, such as the following:

       

      Dailymotion

      D-Addicts

      Phim2viet

      Thegioiphim

      Tube4vn

      Video4viet

      Youtube

       

      These are
      some in which I can think of at the top of my head.  Hope they will help you and your son.  I am quite sure that you can find “My Magical
      Family” (“Gia Dinh Phep Thuat”) on these sites. 
      There, of course, are always the video rental stores, too.

      • Jonathan

        Cám ơn cô

  • http://www.facebook.com/baothienngo Bao Thien Ngo

    It takes a hundred tries before a genius pops up. Give it some time, and someone is going to be so sick of what’s out there, s/he will create something original.

    • JKD

      Hi Bao,

       

      Thank you
      for your positive, forward-looking thoughts.  “Co-opting other cultures” is not necessarily
      a negative aspect of Vietnam. 
      It is how one learns, such as students in a classroom – students usually
      learn by assimilating and then eventually they are expected to generate their
      own original works.  For now, I suppose
      we both will have to just wait for the “genius” in the class to pop.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kiem-Nguyen/728331641 Kiem Nguyen

    Quick and short, in compare to Chinese, we don’t have that 5000 years of literature history, to Korean, we don’t have that kind of freedom of speech, to Japan, we are not quite have such distinct culture. But what Vietnamese have is the ability to absorb and neutralize all of those cultures in one place without conflict. This is the reason why our dramas always seem to borrow one or another originality. The major distinction you can find regards Vietnam are mostly found in short movie such as the recent work “Cánh Đồng Bất Tận”, or popular movies like “Bốn Mùa”, “Mùi Đu Đủ Xanh”, however all of those works are similar in showing how Vietnamese able to endure hardship and poverty and still able to find happiness in life. We are like weed, may be not so sophisticate, not so beautiful, but we can survive and be a part of any environment and live strong with great happiness.

    • JKD

      Hi Kiem,

       

      Thank you
      very much for sharing an alternate perspective and, of course, your positive
      thoughts regarding V-dramas.