Film production was hindered for a long time by the dramatic history of the country, which, a French colony since 1887, experienced the Japanese occupation (1940-1945) and the guerrilla warfare against France (1946-1954); independence led to the division between Vietnam of the North and Vietnam of the South, followed in the latter by an intense anti-government guerrilla, which then turned into a war that also involved the United States and Vietnam of the North. A real cinematography was born only at the end of the fifties; however, it had to wait until the 1990s to acquire a certain international visibility. The first film made in Vietnam was a short documentary shot in 1902 by an operator of the Lumière brothers; but it was only in 1916 that a regular production of documentaries started by French colonial army. The first feature films with a subject date back to the following decade, all made in Hanoi with local actors and subjects but French capitals and directors: Kim Vãn Kiều (1923) by EA Framechon, from the novel by N. Du, and, by unknown authors, T ‘ u-Ph’u đí h’oi v · o ‘(1925, A bride for Tu-Phu) and Giai thoại bà De (1929, The beautiful story of Mrs. De), from the story by U. Hoa. The experience, interrupted by the Great Crisis of 1929, resumed only in 1938, when other films with Vietnamese stories and actors but foreign capitals and directors (in this case Chinese) were shot in Hong Kong: remember Cánh dồng mẚ (The flower of cemetery) by Tran Phi, from the story by N. Van Nam, considered the first film spoken in Vietnamese, and, by unknown authors, Tr‸ạn phong ba (Wind in the storm) and Tồng trận Ngọc Hoa (General Ngọc Hoa). In the wake of their success, various Vietnamese companies were formed that same year, two of which, Vietnam Film by Antoine Giau (Ang-Toan Giau) and Asia Film by Nguyen Van Dinh, managed to make some films (also they, however, shot in Hong Kong), including Một chiếu trên sống Cửu Long (An Evening on the Mekong) by an unknown author. The attempt to create an embryo of national cinema was however blocked by the Japanese occupation. including Một chiếu trên sống Cửu Long (An Evening on the Mekong) by an unknown author. The attempt to create an embryo of national cinema was however blocked by the Japanese occupation. including Một chiếu trên sống Cửu Long (An Evening on the Mekong) by an unknown author. The attempt to create an embryo of national cinema was however blocked by the Japanese occupation.
After the Second World War, during the subsequent guerrilla war against the French, some cinematographic units were set up, directed by operator-directors such as Mai Loc and Khuong Me in the South, Tien Loi, Ngoc Quynh and Quy Luc in the North; they made 16mm documentaries on major battles.
After independence and the division of Vietnam, between 1954 and 1975 in the two areas of the country completely independent cinemas developed, and very different from each other in terms of type and quality of production. In the South about ten films were produced a year, almost all of genre (horror, erotic or martial arts); starting from 1968 there were also some anti-communist propaganda, such as Xin nhân no’i này lam quê hu’o’ng (1971, My homeland is here) by Hoang Ving Loc.
In the North, the first feature film with a subject was Chúng một dòng sống (1959, We live on the banks of the same river) by Nguyen Hong Nghi and Pham Ky Nam, which intertwined the theme of the division of the Vietnam with the lyrical descriptions of the life of the countryside and the world of nature. Very similar were Vợ chồng A Phu (1961, Gli sposi A Phu) by Mai Loc and Hoang Thai, Chim vạn khuyên (1962, The wren) by Nguyen Van Thong and Tran Vu, Chị tú hầu Bai Sao (1963, Bai Sao) by Pham Ky Nam. Since 1964, the involvement of the North in the ongoing conflict in the South prompted the government to use the film industry as a propaganda weapon. In spite of the massive American bombings, we therefore went from two to five films a year, focusing entirely on the theme of war, even without the psychological investigation being completely abandoned:
After the country’s reunification in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (1976), production increased to fifteen films a year; for a time war remained at the center of the subjects, as evidenced by Hong Sen’s Cánh đồng hoang (1979, Land devastated), the main director of that decade; he took advantage of the climate of relative political liberalization to make a highly critical film on agricultural collectivization, Vùng gió xoay (1980, The region of cyclones). A non-conformist was also Tran Phuongin’s Hy vọng cuối cùng (1981, The Last Hope), on corruption and the privileges of executives. Nguyen Hong Sen, Về noi gió cát (1983, Return to the sand village) by Huy Thanh, Tran Van Thuy’s Chuyện tử tề (1986, A Way Story); some of them, considered too critical, were hit by the censorship, such as Viet Linh’s Gánh xi`êc rong (1988, The Walking Circus Troupe), which was blocked for two years. We also witnessed the rebirth of a Southern cinema, especially by Dang Nhat Minh (Bao giò ‘cho đến tháng mu᾽o᾽i, 1984, When October Comes Love Doesn’t Come Back; Cô gái trên sống, 1987, The Girl on the River). love does not come back; Cô gái trên sống, 1987, The girl on the river). love does not come back; Cô gái trên sống, 1987, The girl on the river).
In the context of the liberalization of the economy, the gradual abolition of state subsidies for the film industry, which began in 1986, entailed the need for directors to resort to financial and technical assistance from foreign television channels or public bodies; it has also caused a sharp decline in production, so much so that since 1994 subsidies have been partially re-established. However, it was precisely in this period of crisis that Vietnamese cinema first acquired international visibility, above all thanks to Tran Anh Hung, with his films with refined images but bordering on mannerism: Mùi đu đu xanh (1993; The scent of green papaya), Xích lô, also known as Cyclo (1995), Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Mùa hè chiếu thẳng đu’ng (2000; Summer Solstice). Apart from him, very few directors have made a regular production: Dang Nhat Minh, whose rigorous works argue with the social and economic ‘new course’ of Vietnam (Tr’o ‘v`ê, 1994, Il return; Thu’o’ng nhó đồng quê, 1995, Nostalgia for the countryside; Mùa ôi, also known as La saison des goyaves, 2000), Duc Vuong (Co Lau, 1993; Nhũ’ng ngu’òi thợ xé, known also as The sawyers, 1999; Của ro’i, also known as Missing object, 2002), Le Hoang (Le couteau, 1995; Ai xuôi vạn lý, 1998, The long day; Chi´êc chià khóa vàng, also known as The golden key, 2000). Since the late 1990s, a new wave of young rookies has appeared, often awarded at international festivals: Nguyen Vu Chau (Duyên nghiệp, 1998, Predestined Union), Viet Linh (Chung cu ‘, also known asImmeuble, 1999), Van Nguyen Thanh (Đò’i cát, also known as Sandy lives, 1999), Luu Trong Ninh (Bến không chồng, also known as Wharf of widows, 2000), Do Minh Tuan (Vua bãi rác, also known as Foul king, 2002).