[FYI: There will be a free screening of Pearls Of The Far East (2011) on June 18, 2012 at 6:30 PM at Pratt Manhattan (144 West 14th Street, Second Floor, Room 213). Amy Guggenheim, Founder and Director of Global Cinema, has curated and produced nine film screenings. The series is co-presented with Pratt’s School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and there will be a Q&A with the film’s producer, Igor Szczurko. PS – I’ll be there!]

Can cinema reinvent Vietnam? That’s the question I asked myself after previewing Pearls Of The Far East, a beautiful film that floats a layer above reality. And by beautiful I mean seven tales set in timeless Edens that are the mountains and beaches of contemporary Vietnam.

Seven Vignettes, One Cinematic Experience

Cuong Ngo’s debut feature brings together distinct vignettes about forbidden desire and true love, stories filtered through the lens of sensitive, Vietnamese women protagonists. These women crave affection but seek it in unattainable lovers. They are torn between a sense of duty and the need to satisfy their own lust. All life stages are taken into consideration: childhood, the quarter life crisis, middle age, and married life. There’s a subdued, bittersweet undertone to the failed, romantic encounters. There’s also a prevailing anonymity to all of Ngo’s heroines, a trait that attributes each woman with both depth and distance: we rarely know their names but are introduced to their deepest desires. We feel we are on the receiving end of a fleeting glimpse of each life, lives we barely know, but then as we get closer, we feel the filmmaker is pulling us away to the next story.

A Different Vietnam

Vietnam in Pearls Of The Far East is stunning, breathtakingly beautiful. So are the actors populating the front and center of each plot. The busy streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh that may be more familiar to travelers are remarkably absent. Instead, it is the isolated beaches and lush, green mountains of the north that speak to the peace and serenity of Ngo’s cinematic Vietnam. Pearls Of The Far East allows the viewer to see Vietnam, far removed from the popularized, Hollywood image of the country as apocalyptic jungle, or symbol of failed American policy. Because as time marches on, and old memories are discarded for new ones, there’s a good chance filmmakers will seize the moment to tell a story that will resonate with an audience ready for something gratifyingly different.

And yes, we’re ready.

For more see here and here.

(Images via)


Liu Wen for Vogue China

2011 has not proven to be an easy year, not for Japan, Norway, or even China, despite that country’s rising reputation as a juggernaut of growth. Politicians falter. Media empires crumble. So who’s going to run the world now?

I’ve been keeping up with the news, and am now led to believe the heir apparent who will salvage this world from millennial malaise just might be the 21st century Chinese woman. That’s right. She’s finally emerging from the shadows of anonymity and stepping up to the mantle of social responsibility. Whether it’s pushing foam pies away from defenseless husbands, or raising children to out-excel their peers, there’s been some unanimous agreement that there is a new heroine in town. Tiger Mom, Tiger Wife, call the phenom what you want. Whether you like it or not, these woefully polemical stereotypes are here to stay. But that’s hardly bad news.

Unlike many of my Asian American peers, I actually don’t mind the Tiger Mom heat wave. Sure, it’s died down a little, but just when we thought we’d heard the last of Yale Law professor Amy Chua, along comes Wendi Deng Murdoch and her killer volleyball spike. Already famous for her drive and towering ambition, when Deng fended off her husband’s courtroom attacker, she made herstory. Rupert Murdoch is not your average media mogul, but then Wendi Deng is hardly your average third wife, especially when it’s clear she can effectively out-Murdoch Murdoch. Even Vanity Fair took on the last-minute rigmarole of a side-by-side comparison between the Trophy Wife (hello, VF readership!), and the Tiger Wife as personified by Mrs. Murdoch. A daunting trend? I think not.

If 5,000 years of Chinese history is any indication, Chinese women have not exactly been on equal footing with their male counterparts. And please, don’t give me the look of daggers when I say this, because I can only sympathize – that’s a challenge when your feet were subject to a cultural treatment designed to catapult you to the upper echelons of “pretty and dainty.” A woman’s allure can take her far, but when she couldn’t even reach the front gates without wincing from the pain, far was probably not far at all.

But that was the bad old days. And we’ve come a long way. I hear now that Chinese women buy three times more Maseratis and twice as many Ferraris than Western women. China’s best and brightest are included in the entering classes of America’s top business schools, many of them women. Prominently successful Chinese women aren’t getting married at the conventional age, but why bother, when they have so much else going for them? Pretty and dainty worked back then, but when women can work for themselves, maybe men are becoming a side concern rather than the principle reason for their existence. After epochs of social inferiority, perhaps the survival instinct that have been passed on for voiceless generations are now surfacing in full force. Being a brilliant achiever is now just a matter of willpower for many willing to join the ranks of powerful women. And, many do.

There’s no doubt gender inequality still exists in China, and Asian communities around the world. And it’s daunting to think Asian American women between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest number of suicides among all US women in that age group, perhaps owing to various social pressures. Success also comes at a price for Chinese women who feel compelled to marry, and owe their families children to continue the bloodline. But when 220 million people are lifted out of poverty in China in less than three decades, there’s bound to be consequences. Better education and changing social perceptions of women (and what they’re capable of doing), are the reasons why things are changing for the better.

Which brings us back to Chua and Deng-Murdoch, and the timeliness of their arrival. Are they role models, or just another pair of stereotypes that pigeonhole Chinese women? Will the image of an aggressive, go-getting, and fiercely driven Asian woman adversely affect perceptions of a people already befuddled with stereotypes?

There are no right or wrong answers, but it’s nice that the old notions of Chinese women are fading fast. She is no longer Suzie Wong, waiting to be rescued by her white knight, or the long-suffering wife of a brutal husband. She’s not even the girl who was told her brother would be the only child to attend college. If she chooses to, and she almost always will, she can create a life for herself, set her own goals, and finally know what it means to be on equal footing with the men.

She can have her mooncake and eat it too.