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. 

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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Brian Letwin

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Authorities to Crack Down on Showing Skin in Public

If the Ministry of Public Security has its way, there will be a lot less skin showing on Saigon’s streets. The ministry has introduced a draft decree that doubles fines for people appearing in "underg...

Brian Letwin

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New Report on Vietnamese Online and Mobile Trends

The market research firm, Cimigo, just completed their most recent report on Vietnamese online and mobile trends. The numbers revealed that consumers are becoming increasingly engaged online. The stu...

Brian Letwin

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Rolls-Royce Coming to Vietnam in 2014

Apparently Mercedes, BMWs and Bentleys aren’t enough for Vietnam’s growing upper class. But not to worry! Starting next year, British luxury carmaker, Rolls-Royce will set up shop in Vietnam. Rolls-R...

Brian Letwin

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Nixon’s Plan to Nuke His Way out of Vietnam

B52 Stratofortress Taking Off. Source: US Government Remember that time Nixon gave orders to drop nukes on Moscow to end the war in Vietnam? No? Well neither did I until I came across this article wr...

Brian Letwin

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Who Does Hoi An Exist For?

Ancient houses, beautiful beaches, great restaurants and plenty of places to take long strolls have given Hoi An a reputation for being one of Vietnam’s most charming destinations. But as the number o...

Brian Letwin

in Music & Arts

Event: Art House Cinema Presents “The Night James Brown Saved Boston”

Tonight, Art House Cinema will screen the 2008 film, “The Night James Brown Saved Boston.” The film covers a James Brown concert which took place after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and ...

Brian Letwin

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Vietnamese Language Garden 'Green City' Photo Contest

About the Contest We are now accepting submissions for the Vietnamese Language Garden photo contest. Use your creative eye to shoot photos that capture nature in Saigon - tree-lined streets, a day i...

Brian Letwin

in Culture

How Vietnam’s Rich Earn Their Millions

Two words: Real estate. Citing an unnamed report, VietnamNetBridge found that nearly 30% of Vietnamese millionaires made their money from real estate investments and development. As living standard...

Brian Letwin

in Culture

Hanoi Train Travels Though Narrow Gap Between Houses

Just as in Saigon, Hanoi is a dense city where, outside of downtown, little attention was paid to details like infrastructure planning. This can result in some impactful visuals such as this video of ...

Brian Letwin

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A Look at Vietnam's Love Hotels

Walk through any urban public space in Europe, South America or the US and chances are you’ll encounter a young couple doing…couple’s things. Public spaces are an escape from the oversight of family a...

Brian Letwin

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Vietnam's Ancient Villages Face Serious Problems

Vietnam realized long ago that its ancient villages and towns would be big hits with foreign tourists. Over the last 15 years, the country has rushed to protect its historical heritage by anointing so...

Brian Letwin

in Film & TV

Record Profits for Vietnam's Cinemas

For those whom frequent movie theatres, it’s probably not a surprise to learn that 2012 was a record year for ticket sales in Vietnam. The country has seen massive growth in this industry with a 514% ...

Brian Letwin

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Local Director Heading to Cannes Film Festival

Vietnamese director, Tran Dung Thanh Huy, will be showing his short film, 16:30, at the Cannes Film Festival in May. The film follows a group of street kids who sell lottery tickets in Saigon’s street...

Brian Letwin

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Vietnamese Celebrities Flaunt Their Wealth

It’s no secret that for most in Vietnam (and most of the world for that matter), success is measured by accumulation of wealth. For the country's celebrities who live in the spotlight, showing off the...

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Stunning Street Art in Saigon

French street artist, Julien Malland, AKA Seth Globepainter, travels the world using buildings as a canvas for his huge murals. Collaborating with local artists, he tries to learn new artistic techniq...

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A Brief Look at Catholic Funeral Rites in Saigon

For me, as most of us non-nationals living here in Saigon, the word funeral only evokes ideas of dreadful sounds emanating from a tent set up halfway in the street and haltering the flow of traffic. T...

Brian Letwin

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Digital Media/Art Project Launching This Month

If you’re a creative, digital-minded person who is passionate about Indochina, here’s a great project for you. Riverorchid Digital, an agency specializing in branding, PR and media, is embarking on a ...

Brian Letwin

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Forget the Fockers, Meet the Nguyễns

Meeting the girlfriend’s parents is an intimidating experience in any culture. So what’s the best way to add even more awkwardness to an already awkward situation? Meeting the parents of a girl from a...

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Home Has Shifted

For just over a year now, I have been living on the edge of district one, on a street named Tran Khac Chan. It is an unremarkable street on the face of it, a typical bustling hive of activity, of whic...

Brian Letwin

in Music & Arts

Incredible Thai Version of the Iron Man 3 Trailer

Iron Man 3 hit theaters last week grossing a whopping $195.3 million internationally. With numbers like that, there’s no doubt that the film will be one of the most illegally copied of all time. But p...