The tale of Du

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The celluloid depiction of the story of an epic storyteller in love has been released to mixed acclaim from both critics and audiences in the capital city.

Long Thanh cam gia ca (Song about a person who twangs in Thang Long) is a fictional romance between the author of Truyen Kieu (The Tale of Kieu) and a singer set during the reign of the Tay Son Dynasty (1788- 1802).

The movie is loosely adapted from a poem collection of the same name that Nguyen Du, arguably Vietnam's most famous poet, composed during 1813-1814 when he was an ambassador to China, then under the Qing Dynasty.

The story revolves around two main characters, Nguyen Du and Cam, a singer and musical player, in the middle of social chaos at a time when the country's rule changed hands from the Le to the Nguyen Dynasty (1783-1813).

The poet begins to develop feelings for her after seeing the innocence and purity in her singing, according to the film script.

Several literary sources have said that the collection of 131 poems is about a female singer named Cam, which means string musical instrument. She is said to have lost her popularity as her voice and elegance faded with the fall of Tay Son.

In somewhat similar fashion to Truyen Kieu, a 3,254-verse epic about a beautiful woman who sells herself into marriage in order to save her father and younger brother from prison and is then forced into prostitution, Long Thanh cam gia ca has been praised by critics for its humanitarian voice.

It shows the author's sympathy for women living in feudalism, many of whom were forced to be concubines for rich people because they were good looking or had a beautiful voice.

The movie, directed by Dao Ba Son, was shown at cinemas nationwide on the opening of Hanoi's millennial anniversary from October 1 to 10. Its script, written by Van Le, won the first prize among nearly ten scripts for historical films screened during the event.

Son said that he used the film to talk about the immortality of art.

The rulers have changed, people have aged and died but Nguyen Du's works remain influential, said the director who grew up in Hanoi, formerly known as Thang Long.

Long Thanh cam gia ca tries to show the Vietnam of two centuries ago, and fortunately for the filmmakers, this has not raised any controversy, unlike other recently made historical dramas.

There are scenes of little girls being trained carefully to become singers and dancers in royal places, musical performances by beautiful girls in front of kings and mandarins, trading activities on Thang Long streets and traditional games like chess on rocks.

During a press premiere on September 14, the movie was applauded for showing Vietnamese traditions from all corners: the story, the scenes, clothes, colors and music.

Son said he has invested a lot to make it all about Vietnamese traditions as he doesn't want people watching it to say that they look Chinese.

This happened to the TV series Duong toi thanh Thang Long (The road to Thang Long Citadel) made at the cost of billions of dong. The serial was severely criticized for having scenes and costumes that are very Chinese.

The serial was made at a Chinese studio and the scriptwriter and chief director are Chinese. It tells of Vietnam during the "Early Le" Dynasty until Ly Cong Uan moved the capital from Ninh Binh Province to Hanoi and named it Thang Long in 1010.

The serial makers had to make changes suggested by the Cinema Department under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism before it was aired. Some officials had suggested cutting several scenes in the film that looked too Chinese.

But the final decision last Tuesday said that the film was not suitable for Hanoi's millennial celebration and shouldn't be aired during the event. Any television station screening the film has to bear responsibility for the public's reaction, officials said.

Thai su Tran Thu Do, a TV series about the great tutor Tran Thu Do under the Tran Dynasty, also includes many scenes shot in China. It's also one of the films made to celebrate Hanoi's big birthday.

According to industry insiders, Vietnamese filmmakers lack funds and special studios, so they rarely make historical films and when they do, they are influenced by Chinese historical films that are aired widely on Vietnamese television and are hugely popular as well.

Long Thanh cam gia ca was produced by the Giai Phong Film Studio with around VND7 billion (US$359,000) from the state budget. The film will represent Vietnam at the first Vietnam International Film Festival in Hanoi between October 17 and 21.

But several film reviewers have expressed doubts that the film has a chance at winning an award. Some critics have called it a song that is too long, with few climaxes. A Saigon Tiep Thi review on September 15 said the film shows many beautiful scenes from historical places over two hours, but the director was being greedy in trying to mix historical stories and a love story during a time of profound political changes.

The festival has attracted films from nearly 30 countries. One of the judges is Philip Noyce, director of "The Quiet American."

For the first time ever, the portrait of Vietnam's UNESCO-recognized "man of culture" Nguyen Trai (1380- 1442) was publicly displayed at an exhibition that opened early this week in Hanoi.

The portrait of Nguyen Trai, an illustrious historian, poet, tactician and politician, has been featured in a variety of printed works. However, this will be the public's first opportunity to see the silk portrait created in 1971 up close.

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