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Elements of fate, karma, and reincarnation come together to create a ghost story that is uniquely Vietnamese.
When it comes to ghosts, if we give merit to the belief in their existence, many of us would like to think that they exist in a world separate our own. But for Victor Vu’s new film Spirits (Oan Hon), the distinction between the supernatural and physical is not so easily drawn.
Set in modern day Vietnam, the film is separated into three chapters, each told from a different perspective. The first chapter, “The Visitor,” (Nguoi Khach Tro) centers around an aspiring writer Loc (Tuan Cuong) who comes to seek refuge on an abandoned piece of property where he plans to finish his latest piece of writing. There he meets Hoa (Kathy Nguyen), the beautiful but strange mistress of the house. After a string of disturbing events, Loc uncovers the mystery surrounding his host that will forever change his fate.
The second chapter, “Only Child,” (Con Mot) is told through the perspective of Linh (Kathleen Luong), the young nurse who was sent in to take care of Loc after he goes into a temporary state of insanity. What started out as a duty eventually blossoms into love and the couple is married, but life is not blissful for long as Linh’s disturbing past comes back to haunt her. Unbeknownst to Loc, Linh’s past misdeeds have taken a toll on the family, and she bears him a daughter that cannot walk or talk.
The final chapter, “The Diviner” (Ba Thay Boi) takes place in Loc’s latter days where he has rented out a portion of his house to the traveling fortune teller Lan (Catherine Thuy Ai), who senses that something is gravely wrong with the property. It is through her perspective that the three chapters come together to reveal the secret behind the house.
The film takes place mainly in the house, which is illuminated only in candlelight the majority of the time, providing an eerie atmosphere for the story to unfold. Even though this film is a ghost story, it isn’t the type of ghost story that has the audience screaming and yelling in fear. The ghost story here works at a more subtle level, making the audience question the relationship between the supernatural and the physical world.
Even though Tuan Cuong’s acting was a bit awkward and stiff at first, he improved in the latter two stories where he portrayed an insane, eccentric old man. Kathleen Luong gave a convincing performance as a tortured young woman trying desperately to leave her prodigal past behind. Catherine Thuy Ai and Michael Minh provided comic relief in the final segment of the story, but the laughs didn’t last long as they become the tragic victims of the secret that they were trying to unravel.
Although the film bases itself on Asian beliefs, specifically Vietnamese, everyone can relate to it in some form or another because at the heart of the film is a tragic love story, torn apart by unseen forces.
As Victor Vu said, “Even though the film may be Vietnamese, if it works at a specific level, then it’ll become universal.”
As a Vietnamese person myself, the stories portrayed on screen seemed all too familiar, but it was still difficult not to question the plausibility of such events. Here, I found myself relating to Michael Minh’s character Bao, the son of the fortune teller. He represents the voice of reason and modernity, often questioning Loc’s staunch views towards the ghostly world, whereas Loc resonates with the Vietnamese traditional views towards the supernatural. Whether we side with Bao or Loc, we all have to admit that the line separating the living and the dead isn’t as clear as we would like it to be, and we all question and ponder these issues in our lives.
“There is no time stamp on the film even though it is set in modern day Vietnam because the film is more about the spiritual interaction with the physical world which is a timeless matter. It’s more important that it takes place in Vietnam rather than America, because if it was set in America, it wouldn’t translate very well,” said Vu.
The film, the second collaboration between Executive Producer Philip Silverman and Writer/Director Victor Vu, wasn't actually shot in Vietnam however. It was filmed entirely on a set constructed in Southern California. Spirits has stopped showing in Southern California, but the film will be making its run in San Jose in mid June and in Houston in early August. For those that have missed out on the screenings, the DVD release is planned for Halloween October 31, 2004.
For more information, please visit www.spiritsthemovie.com.
Date Posted: 5/21/2004