Vietnam, Originality, and the Epic Martial Arts Movie

Growing up, I remembered coming home from school and rushing to complete my homework as quickly and as accurately as possible. Why? So I could watch the latest episode of the newest TVB drama available. Ah, the memories of Dagger Li (Tieu Ly Phi Dao) defeating enemies with just one dagger… the twists and turns of Trinket’s (Loc Dinh Ky) adventures… or seeing all five original tigers in the Yang’s Saga (Duong Gia Tuong). And, let’s not forget the distinctive opening tune of any Justice Pao series (Bao Thanh Thien) or the simply awesome sparkling golden eyes of the Monkey King (Tay Du Ky). My childhood have conditioned me to enjoy these ancient wuxia and/or fantasy pieces even to this day.

Thus, when I chanced upon the trailer to “Thien Menh Anh Hung” (I want to translate this as “Fate of Hero,” but “Dong Mau Anh Hung” apparently was translated to “The Rebel” instead of “Blood of Heroes”. Unfortunately, I do not know what the internationally accepted translation is as of this point), I was delighted at first glance. Then, I was disappointed, for I discovered that it was just a 90-minute film and not a full-length series as I had thought. But, no harm done, yet. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to see that the film was not Chinese in origin. “Thien Menh Anh Hung,” a Vietnamese martial film based on the novel “Buc Huyet Thu” (“Blood Letter”), tells the story of a man who discovered that his family was executed for a crime they did not commit. He was the sole survivor and thus embarked on a journey to seek justice and revenge. It is directed by Victor Vu and was just released last month

Is “Thien Menh Anh Hung” a step forward for Vietnamese cinema or is this a simple copycat of existing films?

The film, for one, has been praised for its gorgeous imagery and well-choreographed swordplay (action choreographer is superstar Johnny Tri Nguyen of “The Rebel” and “Clash”.) The costumes were more elaborate and its budget exceeded many previous Vietnamese works.

On the other hand, the story definitely harkened back to scenes from classic Chinese drama.

Male lead whose family was wrongly murdered (Heroes of the Marshes/Thuy Hu)

Trained with old but skillful monk (Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils/Thien Long Bat Bo)

Ventured out and met pretty female lead (Heavenly Sword Dragon Saber/Go Gai Do Long)

Empress who took over the throne upon the emperor’s death (Empress Wu/Vo Tac Thien)

Man with scar across his face (Master Swordsman/Luc Tieu Phung)

Moreover, the storyline is a delicate weave between fictional and historical characters and events of Vietnam – much like the way Jin Yong (Kim Dung) writes his work. And, yes, in school, we are first taught to replicate others’ work before creating our own masterpieces. So, is “Thien Menh Anh Hung” only the Vietnamese version of “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” “Hero,” “House of Flying Dagger” and likewise or does “Thien Menh Anh Hung” rightfully deserve to be praised as equally as these latter films?

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  1. The story about the queen actually happened in the history of Vietnam after the death of King Le Thai Tong. I know that we have watched so many Chinese drama because there was no good Vietnamese action in the past, but It’s so sad if we keep comparing our new movies with the Chinese ones……

    1.  Hi Constant,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.  Comparison is not necessarily a negative thing. It is not necessarily to say one is better or worse, but it could be rather to state the similarities and differences. People could compare, say, oranges and tangerines, but very few would even compare, say, apples and cats.

      1. 🙂 Anyways this is a nice article. It’s sad that sometimes Vietnamese movies can’t be shown overseas for us to watch 🙁 !!!

  2. This is not Vietnamese martial art! There is a big difference between Võ Kinh and Võ Lâm (Thiếu Lâm). If you want to know what is Vietnamese roots of this topic, then visit to this movie, it is beautiful but a copy cat
    True Vietnamese martial art looks more like Boran Muay (predates Muay Thai) with lots of elbows and knees and simple forward, short distance techniques used for thousands of years. The most celebrated and known is Võ Bình Đình that started with Emperor Lê Lợi in the 15th Century. Emperor Quang Trung advance that to its success during the Tây Sơn Dynasty. This art is preserved and taught only to the elite and not to outsiders (foreigners who do not speak, read, write Vietnamese or of different religion). There are additional strict “codes” to select students: selecting their age, birthdate, family history, religion, physical qualities, etc.

    1.  Hi Lucas,
      Thank you for providing some historical facts. Perhaps, the term “Vietnamese” here was a bit misleading. It is referring more to the idea that it is a marital arts film made by Vietnamese rather than this being a film about authentic and legitly martial arts of Vietnamese-origin….  You seem to be speaking from personal knowledge.  Are you one of the “elite” students perhaps?

      1. Hi JKD,
        Yes I am a student of Võ Cổ Truyền. Would be happy to share this knowledge if you are of the right qualifications. It is a life long journey; never stop learning & practicing. 

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