Tired of War? The New Best 10 Vietnamese Films

What are Vietnam Movies best known for?

I realized that the “Vietnamese” movies I watched were American war movies like “Apocalypse Now,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Platoon” or “Good morning, Vietnam.” Although entertaining, all I could remember were explosions, guns, and a questionable and out-of-date way of dividing Americans and Vietnamese into “civilized” and “savage” groups.

The one thing they have in common is the Vietnam war, or as they call it in Vietnam, The American War.

It’s no surprise that these films are famous. The movies were high-budget productions and popular in the United States. Unfortunately, these “Vietnam movies” don’t teach you anything about Vietnamese culture.

Vietnamese Movies Best

Vietnamese Movies You Should Watch Instead

Of course, Vietnam has much more to offer. With some research from Vietnamese content writer Lo Thi Ngoc Anh, I found ten great Vietnam movies that do teach you about Vietnam.

These movies show how beautiful Vietnam is. They show its people and culture and provide different points of view.

Wait no longer and check out this list of well-recognized movies by Vietnamese directors.

1. Song Lang (also Song Lang in English)

 

Song lang, which literally means “two men,” is a percussion instrument used in modern Vietnamese folk opera called “cải lương.” The idea is that its rhythms guide the opera on a moral life path.

This instrument is the philosophical backbone of Leon Le’s film Song Lang, set in the world of the cải lương theater. At first sight, it may look like just another tragic love story, but it’s much more than that. Song Lang is beautiful and contains the right amount of longing combining elements of artistic drive, abandonment, and karma.

Le does an excellent job of getting Phat and Isaac, two of Vietnam’s fastest-rising pop stars, to give a nuanced and empathic performance. The lack of acknowledgment of their love for each other makes every emotion stand out even more in this growing relationship.

Even though the film has been out for a while, its impressive production design, palpable mood, and beautifully understated longing should keep it on both the LGBTQ and Asian festival circuits for the foreseeable future. Its intimate tone is also a great addition to streaming services like Netflix.

2. The White Silk Dress (Áo lụa Hà Đông)

 

Set against a background of poverty, The White Silk Dress (Áo lụa Hà Đông) discusses women’s right and education. Even though the movie takes place during the last years of French colonial rule in Vietnam, many of the same problems still exist today.

This is likely what led Director Luu Huynh, a Vietnamese-American known for fighting for women’s rights and disadvantaged groups, to create this movie. In his film, he makes it clear that he wants people to be aware of the plight of underprivileged groups.

The movie is about three women: Mrs. Dan and her two daughters, Anh and Lu. Much of the story is about how hard they work to keep their valuable white silk traditional dress (áo dài) in good shape. How can they worry about that when the dress is literally the only valuable thing the family has left?

This Vietnam movie can be streamed on Netflix.

3. Don’t Burn (Đừng đốt)

 

Don’t Burn (Đừng đốt) follows an American soldier named Fred Whitehurst in Vietnam in the 1970s during the Vietnam War. While attacking a village, Fred finds a diary in an abandoned field hospital. With the help of his teammate Huan (Ben Rindner), Fred translates the diary of Dang Thuy Tram, a doctor who worked at a field hospital for many years.

After 35 years, Fred brings the diary to Texas Tech University to attend a seminar on the Vietnam War. From here, the story eventually finds its way back to the surviving family of martyr Dang Thuy Tram.

The director Dan Nyat Minh and his team made the movie “Don’t Burn” to honor the brave sacrifices that the medical doctor Dang Thuy Tra and the Vietnamese people made for “The dream of peace and independence” of the fatherland. They did so by choosing the diary’s very detailed facts about the war and its strange journey. The movie is based on a true story.

Don’t burn (Đừng đốt) is not available on streaming platforms, but you can watch the full version on Youtube.

4. The Scent of Burning Grass (Mùi cỏ cháy)

 

The Scent of Burning Grass (Mùi cỏ cháy) is a 97-minute film based on the memoirs of real soldiers. They fought in the 81-day defense of the Quang Tri citadel against US-backed South Vietnamese forces in the summer of 1972.

This movie stands out because it follows the character-building and story-telling rules of many foreign war movies. Hoang (Nguyen Nang Tung, with the older version played by the director himself) is the child-faced poet; Thang (Dang To Tuan) is the thinker who writes an essay (correctly) predicting a win for the communist north in April 1975; Thanh (Le Van Thom) is the prankster, and Long (Nguyen Thanh Son) is the loverboy from a dysfunctional family. The harsh platoon leader Phong (Le Chi Kien) makes them endure painful drills. He becomes a father figure who is proud of his them until the end.

And these soldiers aren’t fearless or dogmatic patriots, either. They worry about getting shot at by enemy snipers as they cross a river. They stumble when they talk about stepping on the bodies of fellow conscripts as they struggle in the water. When they look through the pockets of a dead enemy soldier and find a picture of his mother, the main characters also lament that every conscript has a family back home.

This movie is available on Netflix.

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5. Story of Pao (Chuyện của Pao)

 
Story of Pao (Chuyện của Pao) tells us about a young Hmong girl and her search for her birth mother and takes place in the beautiful mountainous area of Northern Vietnam. Pao was raised by her stepmother and never felt close to her birth mother. Pao even calls her actual mum “that woman.” 

But when Pao’s stepmother is thought to be dead, her father feels very alone and starts drinking heavily. When drunk, he calls for her mum. Despite Pao disliking “that woman,” she brings her back home to make her father feel less lonely. It turns out that Pao’s journey is not just about finding her mother but also about discovering family secrets that help her forgive her biological mother.

The 98-minute film was based on a short story based on actual events. The movie won four Golden Kite awards (the Vietnamese Oscars) and was Vietnam’s official entry to the 2007 Academy Awards. It’s a very moving story about how complicated and deep relationships can be.

You can watch this movie on Netflix.

6. The Buffalo Boy (Mùa len trâu)

 

The protagonist – Hai Phượng (played by Van Veronica Ngo) – was a badass debt collector introduced to the audience when doing her “everyday choirs.” However, her role isn’t respected in the village, and Hai Phuong lives a rather reclusive life. The only true companion in this alienated existence is her daughter.

When a human trafficking gang from Saigon kidnaps the girl, the debt collector immediately decides to drop everything and go after the crooks.

The film embraces the everyday chaos of Vietnamese life, sharpening the action sequences. Narrow alleys and train cars add a claustrophobic element during savage beat-downs. The ever-present traffic hazards whip past Hai Phuong as she chases the kidnappers. Saigon’s colorful, neon lights illuminate a child trafficking den, painting every blow in an eerie spotlight of pinks, greens, and blues.

Furie (Hai Phượng) is available on Amazon.

7. Furie (Hai Phượng)

 

The protagonist – Hai Phượng (played by Van Veronica Ngo) – was a badass debt collector introduced to the audience when doing her “everyday choirs.” However, her role isn’t respected in the village, and Hai Phuong lives a rather reclusive life. The only true companion in this alienated existence is her daughter.

When a human trafficking gang from Saigon kidnaps the girl, the debt collector immediately decides to drop everything and go after the crooks.

The film embraces the everyday chaos of Vietnamese life, sharpening the action sequences. Narrow alleys and train cars add a claustrophobic element during savage beat-downs. The ever-present traffic hazards whip past Hai Phuong as she chases the kidnappers. Saigon’s colorful, neon lights illuminate a child trafficking den, painting every blow in an eerie spotlight of pinks, greens, and blues.

Furie (Hai Phượng) is available on Amazon.

8. Dreamy Eyes (Mắt Biếc)

 

Dreamy Eyes (Mắt Biếc) is a sad love story of a young boy Ngan from the village of Do Do who falls in love with Ha Lan. When Ha Lan moves to Hue city, things start getting more complicated.

The movie has a straightforward narrative combined with beautiful cinematics and music. The production team worked hard to set up the scene and invested heavily in shooting beautiful frames from the scenic Do Do village to the busier Hue city.

In the film’s final scene, the music pushes everything to the climax, creating an ending that makes it difficult for the public to forget. This movie deserves to be considered the best domestic film of 2019. 

You can stream Dreamy Eyes (Mắt Biếc) on Netflix.

9. The Scent of Green Papaya (Mùi đu đủ xanh)

 

This was the first Vietnamese movie nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It was also the first movie that Vietnam sent in for the award. And as of 2017, it is still the only Vietnamese movie that has ever been nominated. In this first film, director Tran Anh Hung avoids a fast-paced, plot-driven story in favor of a slow, meditative atmosphere filled with Buddhist metaphors.

Mùi đu đủ xan is a movie that is so calm and sweet that’s like listening to relaxing music. It is set in Vietnam between the late 1940s and early 1960s. It is told from the point of view of a poor young woman – Mui – who works for a merchant family. She pays close attention to everything around her. As she grows into a beautiful woman, her kind heart gradually wins over her more busy and cynical employers. 

It is a quiet, introspective film that is not about the plot but about how the young woman grows. If you love classic movies, vintage colors, and beautiful angles, this is a movie worth watching. It also teaches you about plenty of Vietnamese cultural traditions. 

You can stream The Scent of Green Papaya (Mùi đu đủ xanh) on Amazon.

10. Father and Son (Cha cõng con)

  • Genre: Drama, Family
  • Duration: 1h30m
  • Year: 2017
  • IMDB: 7.1
 

Father and Son (Cha cõng con) starts in a peaceful riverside village, where a fisherman named Moc and his son Ca live a simple but happy life. The two people work, rest, and play in the valleys of the northern Vietnamese province of Ha Giang, which are mostly untouched and have beautiful scenery.

His son Ca has many dreams until he suddenly falls ill. As the boy gets sicker and sicker, Moc has to go to the city to get Ca the necessary medical care. In scenes shot in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City the father and son have to deal with the noise and chaos of a modern metropolis. You can see how the cities make them feel physically and mentally out of place.

Moc is having serious money issues, but his son’s dreams and willpower keep him going. Will it be enough to save him?

Unfortunately, Father and Son is currently not available on any streaming platforms. I hope that it will be available soon.

Vietnamese Movies Best

Vietnam Movies. More Like This?

I hope this post with the Best Vietnam Movies by Vietnamese Producers helped you to discover new Vietnamese movies by local directors.

If you need more movies recommendations, have a look at some of my other posts:

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