in Film & TV

'Madame Pirate,' Film Project Based on Asia's Greatest Female Pirate, Sets Sail Again

Zheng Yi Zao “started as a prostitute, resisted the authority of the Qing emperor, kicked everyone’s bottom, and then got away with it... also she has been ignored by history,” explains Vietnam-based filmmaker and photographer Morgan Ommer for why Taiwan was interested in funding a two-part film that tells the story of the leader of the world's largest pirate fleet. 

in Film & TV

Hanoi Director's Debut 'Cu Li Never Cries' Wins Best 1st Feature at Berlin Film Festival

After Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell won the Camera D’or award at Cannes last year, this year, another independent film fro...

in Music & Arts

From Tò He to Tamagotchi: Local Designer Brings Our Childhood Toys to Stamps

For Vietnamese kids today, when it comes to games, there’s a possibility that their childhood is entirely confined to the digital world. From phone applications like Temple Run and Pokemon GO to blockbuster releases on the Nintendo Switch, making your own entertainment is much less of a concern for modern children.

in Culture

Meet 90-Year-Old Huỳnh Văn Ba, the Father of Hội An's Foldable Lanterns

In his 90s, Huỳnh Văn Ba’s hair has turned completely silver, but when he was telling me stories about lanterns, his voice and eyes sparkled with a particularly lively hope. Thanks to Ba’s invention — collapsible lanterns — Hội An’s distinctive souvenir can easily follow the footsteps of international tourists to all corners of the globe.

in Culture

In Hà Nội, a Martial Arts Master Preserves the Century-Old Tradition of Dragon Dancing

In Vietnam, during festive occasions such as Tết Nguyên Đán (Lunar New Year), mesmerizing dragon dance performances serve to eloquently spell the people's aspiration for fortune, abundance, and propitiousness. A glimpse into the art of dragon dancing The dragon has been a symbol of great cultural and spiritual significance in Vietnam since ancient times. Standing at the forefront of the Four Divine Creatures (Dragon, Unicorn, Tortoise, Phoenix), the dragon embodies strength, authority, opulence, and good fortune. Consequently, there is a prevailing belief among elders that the Year of the Dragon, denoted as "Năm Thìn," will usher in a period of substantial prosperity. The dragon also represents ancestral roots due to the folklore of Kinh Vietnamese being descendants of a dragon king and a fairy princess. The dragon, synonymous with strength and prosperity, has been a defining symbol in Vietnamese culture throughout history. Given its sacred status, dragon imageries have appeared across different art forms, from architecture, painting, and sculpture to folk theatrics like dragon dances. These vibrant performances take place during festive occasions such as the Lunar New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and other celebrations, symbolizing the collective desire for prosperity. Tracing its roots back to China, dragon dancing has since sprawled across much of Asia. Ancient Hà Nội, known as Thăng Long, is considered the first place in Vietnam where the art took off. Research suggests that dragon dancing in Thăng Long dates back to the 10th century during the Lý Dynasty. Over time, it fused with traditional martial arts and folk dances to become a unique form of art embedded in Vietnamese culture. With its enduring legacy, dragon dance continues to be a popular activity in community events from northern to southern Vietnam. Dragon dance continues to be a popular activity in community events from northern to southern Vietnam. Among various forms, fabric dragon dancing prevails. In the South, this variation is believed to have first emerged within the Chinese community around 1944-1945, when Hokkien businessman Trần Bội, owner of Trung Nam soap company, started a troupe comprising his factory workers in Sa Đéc. Another source, however, suggests that the first fabric dragon troupe appeared a few years earlier at Ông Temple in Phan Thiết, where remnants of a revered dragon head remain. After the war, the practice suffered a subdued period until 1987, when the former Hokkien troupe regrouped, establishing its base at Ông Bổn Temple in District 5. Since then, dragon dancing performances have continued to embellish local celebrations. Preserving Thăng Long's Dragon Dance Tradition In Hà Nội, particularly in localities such as Chương Mỹ, Thanh Trì, or Sơn Tây, the age-old practice is still cherished by locals. The resounding drums and graceful dragon movements remain a staple during Tết festivities. In its modern iteration, Hà Nội's dragon dancing stays true to its traditional roots while adapting to evolving contemporary tastes, with more than 30 styles developed. Master Bùi Viết Tưởng Crafting His Troupe's Costume. In Chương Mỹ, Hà Nội, a young martial arts master dedicates his career to championing the tradition of lion and dragon dancing. As the year of the dragon approaches, amidst busy preparations, Bùi Viết Tưởng and his apprentices find themselves working overtime to meet the surging demand for dragon displays in Hà Nội and neighboring regions. In the biting cold of January, Tưởng's workshop hums with activity, its presence a rare bastion for lion and dragon heads crafting in the capital. Having started his martial arts training at a young age, Master Bui Viet Tuong later focused on studying the intricate art of lion and dragon dancing. He returned to his hometown to establish a martial arts school and form the Tưởng Nghĩa Đường troupe, hoping to pass on this tradition to future generations of his community. The making of a dragon costume. At the workshop, the master and his apprentices diligently cut, sew, and adorn their creations with intense focus. "The dragon-making process involves multiple stages, demanding artisans to be truly patient, meticulous, and appreciative of traditional beauty to spend hours each day decorating every detail, adjusting each part until the dragon takes shape," Tưởng candidly says. Dragon costumes vary in size and color based on the routine, thus allowing for appropriate creativity and variations as needed. Each fabric dragon costume consists of three parts: head, body, and tail, all attached to bamboo legs. Dragons often sport vibrant colors like red - symbolizing luck, and gold, which represents prosperity. Each dragon head requires 5 to 6 days to complete, while the body and other parts take up to 10 days. The dragon head is a combination of bamboo, straw, fabric, and decal paper. After being mounted, the dragon head is intricately decorated. Tưởng notes that the material used for the dragon head must be able to withstand all the weather changes through the seasons of the North. Each paint stroke is emphasized to evoke the majestic spirit of this revered creature. The dragon body is crafted from fabric, with scales printed thermally or raised with decal paper. The number of scales can reach thousands, creating a sparkly effect. In addition to crafting dragons, rigorous training sessions at the club are held well before the Giáp Thìn Lunar New Year. As Tết looms near, the training at the club becomes increasingly rigorous. Artists performing dragon dance should be experienced in martial arts. "Dragon dance is a highly artistic form of performance art. It requires artists to skillfully create movements that accurately depict the majestic and powerful aura of the dragon. Therefore, a seamless blend of fluidity and decisiveness is essential for a dragon dancer. In addition to performance skills, a background in martial arts is crucial," shares Tưởng who draws from his 15 years of experience in both martial arts training and dragon dance. "Anyone looking to engage in dragon dance must undergo a tedious process. Good physical health is a prerequisite to meet the demands of constantly changing movements. Flexible reflexes and resilience are equally important qualities. Hence, those with a martial arts background, adept in various stances and techniques, will quickly adapt to this art form," he explains. Good coordination determines the success of a dragon dance performance. The ability to coordinate within the team also determines the success of a dragon dance performance. "How well the team harmonizes to create continuous transformations, maintaining a tight connection among members, is something I always emphasize to my students." The number of members in a dance troupe varies depending on the size of the dragon. For Tưởng Nghĩa Đường, a typical performance involves 9 members. Each member plays a crucial role, although the positions at the head, number 5, and tail are the most physically demanding. As the one controlling the dragon's head, Đỗ Văn Tới explains, "To make the dragon move gracefully and execute visually appealing movements, the leader must practice sharpness and agility. Precise movements enable other members to follow suit. Additionally, this position is pivotal in handling any unexpected situations during the performance." Đỗ Văn Tới, the dragon head bearer. With each Tet celebration and the arrival of spring, rhythmic drumbeats echo through community gatherings. Against the backdrop of village courtyards, majestic dragons coil and sway, a testament to the enduring power of this traditional art form. Dragon dance performances evoke not just fond childhood memories but also the people's aspirations for luck, success, and the ambition to rise resiliently. As long as the younger generations embrace this cultural legacy, its enduring charm remains steadfast.

Khôi Phạm

in Culture

On Delving Into Vietnam's Eras of Tết Firecrackers via My Family History

Is it a valid reverie or just mere misguided nostalgia to feel a sense of yearning for lives you’ve never lived?

in Culture

Xông Đất and the Art of Not Letting Randos Into Your Home on Mùng Một

Tết permeates all areas of life this time of the year, from TV programs to online memes and highly detailed charts, tables, and infographics that guide people to participate in a popular new year activity called xông đất.

Back Arts & Culture

in Culture

Learning About Life and Death From the Stories of Funeral Directors in Vietnam

Sitting down with Hương Thủy and Đức Thịnh, I was able to listen to a plethora of fascinating anecdotes about Vietnam’s funerary practices.

in In Plain Sight

Amid Phố Cổ, the Unassuming Cultural Exchange Center Tells Stories of Hanoi's Heartland

In the heart of the Old Quarter, the Hanoi Cultural Exchange Center carries a rich repertoire of knowledge and stories of the city’s architecture and history.

in Film & TV

'Tro Tàn Rực Rỡ' Wins Top Prize at Film Festival in France

Recently, Tro Tàn Rực Rỡ (Glorious Ashes), a Vietnamese film directed by Bùi Thạc Chuyên, was awarded the highest honor at the Nantes Festival of Three Continents.

Khôi Phạm

in Music & Arts

Two Decades of Women's Vintage Fashion in Saigon, as Illustrated by a Young Hanoian

In conversations surrounding Vietnam’s fashion history, it’s impossible not to discuss áo dài and its many iterations across the eras as symbols of Vietnamese femininity, but it would be amiss to leav...

in Quãng 8

Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective's Only Rule in Music Is Having No Rule

To write any music interview, my formula is quite simple: start with the story of how they got into music, followed by their critical opinions on the field. There will always be a narrative that the m...

in Music & Arts

Vintage Music Compilation 'Saigon Supersound' Releases 3rd and Final Volume

Since Saigon Supersound presented its first volume back in 2017, the anthology of vintage Vietnamese music has become a household name for fans, both in and out of Vietnam, with a penchant for tunes f...

Paul Christiansen

in Loạt Soạt

The Fraught Human-Earth Dynamics in 'Revenge of Gaia,' a Collection of Vietnamese Eco-Fiction

Stories focusing on the natural world and humanity’s relationships with the environment existed before the term eco-literature became popular in the west in the 1970s, but since its coinage, writers a...

in Music & Arts

How Young Artists Are Bringing Mural Arts to Schools in Rural Vietnam

On their fifth journey off the beaten paths, Tô Đậm is heading to the highland of Ma Bó, Lâm Đồng Province for a new season of lessons, stories, and adventures previously unfolded.

in Film & TV

HBO Adaptation of 'The Sympathizer' Casts Kiều Chinh, MC Kỳ Duyên, Sandra Oh

Hollywood stars Sandra Oh and Robert Downey Jr. are joined by a number of diasporic Vietnamese actors for the anticipated HBO adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sy...

in In Plain Sight

Hanoi's Literature Museum Is Not Neglected, but It's Not Thriving Either

From the side road of Âu Cơ Street, I turned into ngõ 275.

Khôi Phạm

in Quãng 8

Hồ Trâm Anh Writes Music for Those Who Walk City Streets Yearning for the Open Sky

When I begin my interview with Hồ Trâm Anh, a light shower starts sprinkling over Saigon’s overcast maudlin sky. I apologize if any errant pitter-patter might distract our call, but Trâm Anh brushes i...

in Music & Arts

Q&A: Nguyễn Quí Đức on Tadioto, Zone 9, and How He Fell for Hanoi's Charms

Countless are the number of hours Hanoi creatives have spent sipping whisky and contemplating the world at the famous drinking hole that is Tadioto.

in Culture

In Ninh Thuận's Chăm Community, a Joyous Celebration of Katê, the Year's Most Important Festival

The Katê festival is the oldest and most unique festival of the Chăm ethnic minority and has been recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage by Vietnam's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tou...

in Quãng 8

From Rapper to Singer-Songwriter: Minh Đinh and the Trials to Find Himself

Minh Đinh's journey of self-discovery is one that represents the effort of the multi-talented artists in the Vietnamese indie community.

in Music & Arts

The Hanoian Artisan Carving Intricate Reliefs From Leather to Make Book Covers

The enduring pages in our history deserve book covers that match their significance.

Paul Christiansen

in Culture

Need a Sign From the Universe? Lương Hữu Khánh Street Has Every Color, Shape, and Size.

Saigon is filled with addresses you aren’t looking for, announcements not aimed at you and signs for businesses you have no plans to frequent. Sign street demands delving into the oft-ignored.

in Music & Arts

A Brief History of Paris by Night, the Anchor of Vietnamese Culture Abroad

If home cuisine could satiate exilic tongues that resist strange flavors, art might condole with nostalgic hearts. Paris by Night is one such therapeutic art, or the hallmark of performing arts for Vi...

Paul Christiansen

in Culture

In Đà Nẵng, a Vintage Money Aficionado Forgoes Professorship for Life in the Night Market

What gives one’s life meaning? For some, it’s faith, family or art. For Trần Văn Nam, it’s money, but not in the way you probably imagine.

in Music & Arts

'Đông Nam Bộ' Project Invites 14 Young Artists to Draw the History of Their Hometowns

“Đông Nam Bộ” is a collection of illustrations reflecting the culture, history and local charms of provinces in the Southeast Region of Vietnam. The artworks were all created by artists who live or gr...

in Culture

Meet Chú Hai Bạc, Saigon's Veteran Vespa and Lambretta 'Doctor'

Even in his 70s, Phan Văn Bạc — better known among friends and fans as chú Hai Bạc — is still getting his hands dirty every day working with engines, screws and bolts to take care of vintage Vespas an...