Cyclo devastating Sad Vietnamese saga beautifully
1995, Starring Le Van Loc, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Tran Nu Yen Khe
Directed by Tran Anh Hung
By BRUCE KIRKLAND
The Vietnamese film Cyclo is a difficult, depressing, yet visionary film
about the hellish aftermath of decades of war. It is neither for mainstream
audiences nor for the squeamish, yet cinephiles might be excited. Cyclo is as
visually exhilarating as it is emotionally devastating.
Made by the France-based Vietnamese writer-director Tran Anh Hung, whose
earlier film The Scent Of The Green Papaya was an international arthouse hit,
Cyclo first appeared in Toronto at the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival.
It plays in Vietnamese with English subtitles.
While the title idly suggests some Japanese monster movie, it actually refers
to the men or boys who drive the bicycle taxis or pedal cabs that ferry
passengers through the streets of Vietnamese cities.
The Cyclo of the title is a youngster trying to make his way in Ho Chi Minh
City. His father, also a cyclo, was killed a year earlier in a traffic accident
and our hero wants to support members of his family.
Life takes a drastic turn when Cyclo's pedal cab is stolen by a gang, leaving
him in debt and with no means to earn income. Which means he is vulnerable and
ready to be coerced into crime by the ruthless gang queen who had put him into
business and now `owns' his life.
The descent into this inferno is rapid, tragic and all consuming. Soon, Cyclo
is caught in the charismatic clutches of a gangster known as the Poet, who turns
out to be pimping Cyclo's beloved older sister. And the saga deepens, the
torment heightens. Things will end badly for someone.
Filmmaker Tran Anh Hung films Cyclo without ever once referring to Vietnam's
wars with either France or the United States. Yet the stench of war - with its
disruption, its disease, its detritus of orphans and invalids - hangs over the
city like a storm cloud. Violence is in the air.
The visuals depicting this are so vivid, so daring, so astonishingly
beautiful and ugly in angry juxtaposition that the film consumes the viewer with
an intensity that is both emotionally and physically shattering. This is true
The filmmaker also cast Cyclo with an absolute assurance that brings the
story to life. The youngster playing Cyclo, Le Van Loc, is a real street child
from Vietnam. Yet he meshes effortlessly, under the director's guidance, with
Hong Kong star Tony Leung-Chiu Wai as the Poet, and Green Papaya veteran Tran Nu
Yen Khe as the Sister.
Cyclo is an unusual film, far out of the mainstream, yet it is a remarkably
rich offering for those willing to risk it.