This article is probably going to sting for most readers, but we need to tackle this issue head-on. Johny Nguyen’s latest film, Cho Lon has been banned by the Vietnam Film Department. This effectively prevents the film from being released anywhere, ever. There is no real chance that this film will become released as an “uncut” edition somewhere else in the world because the government won’t allow it, meaning that all that time, money, and effort has effectively gone to waste.
Johnny Nguyen issued one simple statement that summed it all up:
What’s more to be said? It’s like losing my son.
This news has not been received very well in Vietnam, both by the public and the industry as a whole. Many directors are speaking out against the Vietnam Film Department and taking a stand. Directors Tuan Nguyen Huu and Dung Nguyen Quang have both issued statement in response, both with sarcasm and anger.
However, it’s important to take a moment and look at what the Vietnam Film Department actually said in regards to Cho Lon:
Cho Lon violated the Law of Cinema when showing scenes of gangsters blatantly set in battle, chaotic fighting with knives, swords, machetes, with blood spilling everywhere … without the interference of government, polices, people or any other social forces.
Recently the producers sent the edited version of Cho Lon, which cut some violent scenes and inserted some appropriate scenes. But it’s still not repaired overall, so the Central Board of Film Evaluation of the Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism shall not issue licenses for Cho Lon.
The key part I want everyone to focus on is not the violent aspect of the film, but the tail end of the first sentence. It’s the lack of government, police, or other social forces that is being a real sticking point. Now, let me put on my “Asian cap” for a moment and help out on this aspect. I don’t think that the violence alone is the reason why this film is being banned. Twitch seems to think that films like the Raid and SPL would be banned if they were made in Vietnam, but both of those films have police fighting thugs. Yes, it’s violent, but the criminals get their due justice, in a way.
See, Asian censors can be really picky like that. Even Korean music videos get banned for the most ridiculous reasons. Don’t believe me? Rain’s Love Song was taken down because it showed him running down the middle of the street (where you should be using a crosswalk) as well as a music video by Lee Hyori Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was banned because people were dancing on the bus and not wearing seat belts. I know, I’m mixing Asian cultures here, but I just wanted to help paint a better picture for everyone out there.
Now, the film’s director Charlie Nguyen did go to great lengths to add the presence of police officers in the film. Check out his statement here:
“We edited the script for Cho Lon three times. The Vietnam Film Department wanted to change all the content, and the screenplay of Cho Lon, but it’s something we absolutely can not do because we must re-shoot many scenes but investment funds are limited. We have cut almost all the violent fighting scenes, and added some scenes with the police and I did everything I can do without changing the storyline.
If the production company continues to seek solutions and find the appropriate funding source, maybe the film can be re-shot and the storyline edited. But to be honest, I don’t know if I have any further interest and resources to do so.”
In the end, this is a battle between creative differences and public authority. One side wants to tell an exciting tale while the other seems to think this promotes gang warfare. Do I think this is ridiculous? Yes, of course, but it’s important to see things from both sides to get a clear perspective on everything.
It’s a shame that Cho Lon won’t be released, and maybe the attention the film is getting will usher in a new era for Vietnamese films. It’s really upsetting as a filmmaker to put in all this hard work, only to have some organization tell you that you can’t release it. For now, though, I can only respect Johnny and Charlie Nguyen for sticking to their guns and not compromising their ultimate image for what their film should be. A lot of respect is deserved for that.
So, what do you guys think about this whole issue? Did I miss the point? Feel free to sound off in the comments below!