The Viet­namese Ham­burger Movie

Oi Vietnam - - Cover Story -


Like it or not, we all have to grow up some­how, and that some­times painful process has seen umpteen it­er­a­tions. A re­cent ad­di­tion to the list is Em Chua 18 (English ti­tle:

Jail­bait), a com­edy about a young-at-heart, well-to-do pickup-artist and his club-footed foray into the world of high school dat­ing. Af­ter a bet gone wrong, the fash­ion­able and capri­cious Hoang (Kieu Minh Tuan) mis­tak­enly spends a night with a girl, Linh Dan (Kaity Nguyen), who only re­veals her age to him the fol­low­ing day. When she black­mails him with the video ev­i­dence, forc­ing him to play her boyfriend as vengeance on her high school ex, Hoang ac­ci­den­tally finds that he too is stuck in his ju­ve­nil­ity. The story per­haps sounds fa­mil­iar but, in this in­stance, vari­a­tions on this age-old theme beat new life, and new laughs, into a story de­trac­tors might con­sider some­thing of a dead horse.

Le Thanh Son, di­rec­tor of this smash hit, sat down with me to dis­cuss the suc­cess of the film, the stories he wants to tell and his thoughts on the Viet­namese film in­dus­try.

Em Chua 18 is re­mark­able for a num­ber of rea­sons, no­table among them per­haps is its ded­i­ca­tion to a clean, pol­ished aes­thetic. The film is set in Ho Chi Minh City’s most af­flu­ent neigh­bor­hoods, de­pict­ing the lives of wealthy mid­dle­class in­di­vid­u­als, tinged with the American 80s come­dies that built up the back­bone of the genre. At first glance one is re­minded of Clue­less, which epit­o­mized the ‘daddy’s princess’ archetype, The Break­fast Club, which sorted high school stu­dents into in­stantly-iden­ti­fi­able cliques, and Mean Girls, which dis­tilled its pre­de­ces­sors and cre­ated a host of new clichés to re­flect the chang­ing times. The of­ten-charm­ing world of th­ese char­ac­ters is brought back for Em Chua 18 but it feels dif­fer­ent. We are not in sub­ur­ban Amer­ica but what looks like District 7. There are West­ern­ers speak­ing Viet­namese, an openly gay, camp stu­dent, ex­pen­sive cars, bril­liant night­clubs, a pre­pon­der­ance of English phrases and an over­whelm­ing ob­ses­sion with who will be­come this year’s prom king and queen. This Viet­nam is per­haps not the one we all rec­og­nize and Son ad­mits this.

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