By Brad Kava
Mercury News

Jim Gensheimer / Mercury News

Ringo Le is the director of the movie “Saigon Love Story” which will be screening in San Jose on Saturday, November, 25.

More photos

When the American movie “Love Story” was released in South Vietnam in 1970, the themes of the tragic-romantic film with Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw struck such a strong chord in the country that people cut school to see it, left work, and maybe even forgot about the war that was raging.

More than three decades later, Ringo Le, a 29-year-old Vietnamese-American from San Jose, is hoping his first film — “Saigon Love Story” — will have the same effect.

Critics who have seen Le’s movie at film festivals have praised the almost two-hour-long artfully shot musical for being one of the first movies to examine modern Vietnamese life without ever focusing on the war.

“My goal was to make a film that looked at Vietnamese people intimately in their daily lives, and was not about war,” says Le, who presents the movie to the public Saturday at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts, before taking it on a U.S. and world tour.

Like movie directors Pedro Almodóvar or Ingmar Bergman, “I wanted to look at the regular lives of people, not politics. Growing up, all we ever learned in school about Vietnam was the war. The rest of the country was like an afterthought.”

The original “Love Story,” with its class stratified lovers, and the tragic death of one, was a huge hit in Vietnam because it echoed strands of the country’s sentimental romantic literary tradition, according to Thu-huong Nguyen-vo, a professor at UCLA’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

“The origin of some of these things are colonial,” she said. “They come from 19th century Europe, where symbolism and romanticism were du jour.”

In South Vietnam, she added, which suffered the brunt of damage and death in the war, nihilism and pessimism linked with the romanticism — making a perfect setting for the tragic romance.

Since the government, over the past few years, opened the Vietnamese film industry to private investors, some from the West, there’s been a renaissance, with filmmakers tackling topics that weren’t allowed before.

Films such as Le Hoang’s 2003 “Bar Girls” represented a breakthrough, as one of the first Vietnamese films to look at the grim reality of young prostitutes. There is a new wave of directors making entertaining films about real life topics, as opposed to what Hoang described in an interview with World Press Review as government-approved films limited to “war memories and socialism building.”

Le sees himself as part of a new generation of filmmakers hoping to capitalize on Vietnam’s relaxed policy and make films for the sake of art and entertainment.

On Saturday, Le will link the public premiere of his movie with a night of variety show talent, featuring some of Vietnam’s most famous singers. It’s a novel approach for an audience he says isn’t used to dramatic films.

That’s the same reason he chose to make his first film a musical — in the tradition of “Cabaret” or “Chicago” — with seven songs sung by one of the most famous pop stars in Vietnam, Yen Vy. “This is like a Hollywood meets Bollywood musical,” Le said.

“We want this to help reinvigorate the Vietnamese film industry,” said Le, who had to wait three months while censors in the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture and Information reviewed his script and allowed him to shoot in Saigon. “Since they privatized the film industry in 2002, and with a population of 80 million people, there is tremendous room for growth.”

Le, who attended Santa Teresa High School in San Jose, San Francisco State University and California State University-Los Angeles, got local investors to support his effort, raising $1 million from his father and a business partner, and shooting in the communist country for two months at the beginning of 2005.

“Saigon Love Story” is about a lower-class man raised by a single mother who runs a cafe and falls in love with another lower-class woman, a singer.

But his mother, striving to better their condition, sets him up with the rich daughter of a factory owner.

The youth must decide between satisfying his mother’s wishes, or his heart.

“It’s a choice many second-generation immigrants must face,” Le said. “Whether we uphold tradition, or create our own set of values.”

It’s a question he’s faced throughout his life.

In Vietnam, he was treated as a Westerner by the cast and crew.

“My sensibility was too American for them,” he said.

But as he was growing up in San Jose, Le many times felt out of step with the culture around him.

“I liked Dostoyevsky and Siddhartha, but I felt like there was no relevance in the books we read in school to me. There were no characters who looked like me, nothing that pertained to my ethnicity.”

Yet, he learned in Vietnam that he was definitely American.

“I’m Buddhist, for crying out loud,” he said, “but I missed Christmas over there. I missed the smell of the pine trees at Christmas in the Park, the smell outside Marie Callendar’s, the smell of pumpkins, and after that you know it’s fall.”

Like the character in his movie, Le said, he has created a new set of values that combines both cultures.

“I can’t give up either or I destroy both.”

Le has spent the past weeks selling tickets, passing out handbills and showing the trailer for his film at a makeshift booth at the Grand Century Mall, a popular shopping center for the Vietnamese community at Story Road and McLaughlin Avenue — “truly grass-roots marketing,” he says.

It took time for Le’s father, David, to adapt to the thought that his first-born was pursuing the arts, and not law or medicine. But when he finally accepted it, “We asked him to make one movie for Vietnam, before he goes to Hollywood,” the elder Le said.

“At the Asian American Film Festival in Los Angeles, I saw a lady cry during the movie,” his father continued. “It made me feel that Ringo Le really touched everyone’s heart.”

Contact Brad Kava at or (408) 920-5040. Fax (408) 271-3786. Read his blog at

Yoko Ono’s famous works to go on display in Vietnam
Thanh Nien Daily – Ho Chi Minh city,Vietnam
created by her and John Lennon and communicated the message of protests against the US war in Vietnam. ”Bed In” or “Peace Bed”, a camera film, was made
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A son rides Vietnamese wave

November 25, 2006

Contra Costa Times – CA,USA
Little Saigon’s timing is good — Vietnamese restaurants are in ascendance in the suburbs, replacing Thai and Indian as a novel yet affordable cuisine.

Graham Greene’s Vietnam

November 25, 2006

Gridskipper – New York,NY,USA
Greene’s book was set in Saigon and, as most of his books are, Quiet American was meticulous in its use of real-life places and landmarks.
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Commitments to WTO not beneficial to majority of Vietnamese people
VietNamNet Bridge – Hanoi,Vietnam
has also pledged not to give subsidies to farm produce right after Vietnam joins WTO, which is believed to have a serious impact on Vietnamese agriculture and – USA
President Bush’s visit for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, it was Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s turn to give a thrill the Vietnamese people.
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Iraq strategy takes page from Vietnam playbook
Los Angeles Times – CA,USA
In historical assessments and the American recollection, Vietnam was the unwinnable war. and then blocking funding and supplies to the South Vietnamese army.
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November 25, 2006

Brad and Angelina take Vietnam by surprise
Sydney Morning Herald – Sydney,New South Wales,Australia
Pitt and Jolie arrived in Vietnam on Thursday, during what appeared to be a break from The film stars Jolie as the wife of US journalist Daniel Pearl, who was
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Movies to see (or not)
24 Hours Vancouver – Canada
Estevez’s film Bobby. You’d better already know before going in about Robert Kennedy’s run for the American presidency in 1968, fuelled by anti-Vietnam war

San Jose Mercury News – CA, USA
When the American movie “Love Story” was released in South Vietnam in 1970, the themes of the tragic-romantic film with Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw struck
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Fistful of remakes, fresh takes – Los Angeles,CA,USA
No Sir David Zeiger’s film looks at the role that military men and women took in protesting and ultimately ending the war in Vietnam. Docurama: $26.95, Dec.

Filmmaker expands scope of work
Concord Monitor – Concord,NH,USA
He could work longer and harder on a film in rural New Hampshire than he could Among other projects Burns is considering is a history of the Vietnam War and a

Memories of a grand filmmaker
Deseret News – Salt Lake City,UT,USA
After a tour of duty in Vietnam, I was stationed in Germany for the last Having read about the film, and reasoning (correctly) that it would never play in the
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Pacifica Radio – USA
The film was a black comedy about a medical unit in the Korean War, but it tapped into a groundswell of opposition to the war in Vietnam and became a mammoth

Ambitious ‘Bobby’
Washington Post – United States
the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, the director keeps the film’s real subject to marry a boy she knows only vaguely to keep him from going to Vietnam.
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Spanish films screened in Vietnam
Nhan Dan – Hanoi,Vietnam
A Spanish film week, the fifth of its kind in Vietnam, kicked off in Hanoi on November 22. During the week, four outstanding Spanish



New America Media, News Report, Andrew Lam, Nov 10, 2006

Editor’s Note: Vietnamese-Americans are asking why only three out of 18 Vietnamese candidates from California won their races for city, state and national offices. Many see only a brief setback for a community rapidly finding its footing in American politics. Andrew Lam is a NAM editor and author of “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora” (Heyday Books, 2005), which recently won a PEN/Beyond Margins Award.

Eighteen Vietnamese-American candidates ran for office in California this election season, and only three won. All three winners were incumbents. What happened to the growing political clout of the state’s Vietnamese community?

In California, where the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam reside, political participation has long been a nourished dream of Vietnamese. In recent years, Little Saigon in Orange County has successfully ventured into the political realm, electing a handful of Vietnamese city councilmen and a state assemblyman. Their presence has been seen as a sign of the community’s growing maturity.

Many Vietnamese-Americans suspect the stunning defeat this year of so many candidates has much to do with the scandal surrounding Vietnamese-American congressional candidate Tan Nguyen. When 14,000 fliers were mailed from Nguyen’s office to Democratic voters with Spanish surnames in Orange County, telling them if they were immigrants they could face possible imprisonment and deportation if they voted, Nguyen found himself at the center of a political storm.

“Nguyen is a popular last name, and although many of other candidates had nothing to do with Tan Nguyen’s tactics, they share in the blame,” says Thai Tran, a voter in Orange County. “I’m afraid that some Hispanic voters voted to punish the Vietnamese community as a whole.”

Duc Ha, editor of, says the friendly relationship that Little Saigon worked hard to build with Hispanic communities in California “is now shattered.”

“I’m pretty sure the mailer scandal has some impact on the election of other Vietnamese candidates,” Ha says. Some Hispanic voters quoted by the Los Angeles Times said they were furious about the flier, and that they were motivated in part to go vote because of it.

The 18 Vietnamese ran for positions ranging from school board to city council to mayor.

Tan Nguyen lost to incumbent Loretta Sanchez by 24 points in their race for Congress. John Duong, another Republican, lost by 20 points in his bid for mayor of Irvine.

Re-elected were Van Tran, for state assembly, Lan Quoc Nguyen, for Garden Grove Unified School District, and Andy Quach, for Westminster city council.

Longtime community activist Linh Vu, who called the results terrible for the Vietnamese-American community, notes that, for a Vietnamese-American candidate to win, “the ability to have mainstream voters on your side is a must.” He says many Vietnamese-American candidates still make a common mistake. “Just having a Vietnamese last name without earning yourself a record and reputation as somebody in the community will not give you carte blanche support,” Vu explains. Furthermore, “When many Vietnamese-American candidates are vying for the same position, there will be dilution of voting bloc.”

Yet Vu notes that in San Jose, where Vietnamese-American voters are a formidable voting bloc, both mayoral candidates — Chuck Reed and Cindy Chavez — courted the community aggressively. “The Vietnamese-American community views the two candidates based on their personality and display of loyalty more than on the issues of which they stand.” Reed, a Vietnam vet who understands the political passion of the Vietnamese community, won. Political power is not simply having a Vietnamese face, but access.

In Orange County, incumbent congresswoman Loretta Sanchez has championed human rights in Vietnam, fighting for the release of political prisoners and earning the trust of Vietnamese-Americans over the years.

De Tran, longtime publisher of the now-defunct Viet Merc, in San Jose, says that he’s not disappointed with the election results. Though a personal friend his, John Quoc Duong, who was defeated in the Irvine mayoral race, Tran says Vietnamese-Americans are now part of the American political process.

“I don’t think this is a setback. You keep having to have more candidates every electoral season. Maybe the new groups will be better prepared next time around, more savvy with coalition building,” Tran says. “The Vietnamese community sees the Cuban community in Florida as a model, one with growing political and economic influences and lobbying power. Eventually there’ll be many Vietnamese-American candidates out of Florida, Texas and California.”

Maybe someday, Vietnamese-Americans will even be present in Capitol Hill, Tran says.

What about closer to home?

“Not in the next four years,” according to Tran. “We haven’t arrived yet. We are only beginning to discover the electoral process. But beyond that, it’s quite possible that we’ll have a Vietnamese mayor in San Jose. Why not?”

Why not, indeed. Win or lose, the community born of expulsion from Vietnam three decades ago and formed by refugees and boat people has found sure footing on American soil.

Related stories:

Big Politics in Little Saigon

Vietnamese Media Gauge Fallout From Campaign Scare Letter

User Comments

kawahchan on Nov 10, 2006 at 09:16:10 said:

CALIFORNIA CHALLENGES FOR WTO’s VIETNAM’s ECONOMY – Let us use a coin and a pencil to draw two circles, these two circles are intersected to each other. Circle A is a trade revenue of California’s exports to Vietnam, and Circle B is a trade revenue of Vietnam’s exports to California. These two intersected circles’ partial overlaid area is called the intersection of the Circle A and Circle B. Let use pencil to shade the intersection area, this shaded intersection of Circle A and Circle B is our argument of trade deficit between California and Vietnam. Put in this way to say if we see Circle A is a perfect full circle within the shaded intersection area, that means the Circle B is looked like a semilunar circle missing the shaded intersection area. The full Circle A (California’s) has gained on trade surplus from Vietnam, and the semilunar Circle B (Vietnam’s) is occurred a trade deficit behind California. The argument is how we can make this shaded intersection of Circle A and Circle B can become a more reciprocal overlay to each other. If this year California is trade surplus US$n-million profit from Vietnam, so California will credit US$n-million (or less) tariff-free to Vietnam’s imported-goods for next year’s trade with Vietnam; otherwise Vietnam will giveaway its US$n-million (or less) surplus to credit California’s imports as tariff-free when next year’s trade with California. To credit the US$n-million trade surplus as the tariff-free to the other party’s trade deficit could avoid layoffs and the consumers don’t have to burden on high priced imports and causing inflation. The key to the shaded intersection is the US$n-million tariff-free can create new employment, this is the correct method for California (Oregon, Washington) to partner WTO’s Vietnam in Asia-Pacific region’s free-trade; the foreign currency appreciation is the wrong theory and a wrong method to reduce the high trade deficit (with China). Because Vietnamese-Americans are eligible votable taxpayer-citizens in California state, and the new Vietnam (after 4-decade Vietnam War) is a fast growing country which is America’s West Coast’s long-term interests in Asia-Pacific region. Because we have a European-American immigrant California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who does not belong to Asia-Pacific region, we feel it is much efficient to the Asian-Californians and the California’s private Asian banks & Asian capitals such as the full of Asian cultural United Commerical Bank, Caty Bank, and Citibank are the mainstream bridging to play a major role in Pacific cross-strait’s direct transactions, economy, trades and culture-exchange between Vietnam and America’s West Coast. Asian-Californians realize the Vietnam’s tourism is the major sources of our California-imports consumers in Vietnam local; therefore Asian-Californians must need to invest and build our own “Little Los Angeles (L.A.)”, a California style plaza for hotels, restaurants, clubs, gift shops and branch-offices of California based Asian banks in Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) in order to compete with the Vietnam’s local “Little Paris” (and French imports sales) if California wants to sell our California-made wines, cheeses, and other imports to the vacationing tourists in Vietnam. In order to win the “Little Los Angeles” plaza approval by the Vietnam’s authorities, we Asian-Californians and California’Asian banks will offer:
1) 92-day bond to assist Vietnam’s economic development or 92-day bailout to help Vietnam to export goods (such as rice, fruits, seafoods, etc.) to California. Such the United Commerical Bank is well experienced and compatible to offer these kinds of Asian operations.
2) Asian-Californians and California based Asian banks will generate capitals to invest the “Little Los Angeles” plaza wherever the Vietnamese government granted land for long-term joint-venture with California.
3) For tourism to have some funs, negotiation of a possibility to build a Paramount’s Great America (to relocate the South Bay’s scene parks to Vietnam opened for all seasons, and N. California can build more new scene parks); and possible a Universal Studio Hollywood (it is much cheapest for Hollywood to make movies at the Vietnam based studios than at the Russia’s; considered the Vietnam’s music entertainment & music DVD are the fast growing industry in Los Angeles and in Vietnam).
This article of “California challenges for WTO’s Vietnam’s economy” is to echo our 55 electoral votes of California economic growth, a fresh start campaign fundraising for BOTH (D) STEVE WESTLY to run for ’08 California U.S. Senator, and (D) Sen. JOHN KERRY to run for ’08 U.S. President. After Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner and Christmas season holidays, the California’s Vietnamese-American community, the winegrowers, Asian bankers will invite (D) STEVE WESTLY and (D) Sen. JOHN KERRY to get together to present a campaign fundraising dinner party to make speech and also discuss our foreign affairs of the West Coast’s California, Oregon, and Washington challenge for the new WTO’s Vietnam’s economy and the Asia-Pacific region’s trades.

16:37′ 07/11/2006 (GMT+7)

Soạn: HA 948359 gi đến 996 để nhn ảnh này

VietNamNet Bridge – Many experts have said that WTO membership will bring Vietnamese youngsters more opportunities, but what do the young say about their country’s integration. 

Dao Duc Quan, Director of Viet Joint-stock Media Company VietComs: “More opportunities for companies of young entrepreneurs to attract capital.” 

I think that Vietnam has been a very small market, which has not been able to catch the eyes of big companies in the world. WTO admission will further focus the world’s attention on the country. This therefore will create chances for young entrepreneurs in new business areas, especially in the media industry. 

In fact, big companies in Vietnam have built partnerships with international companies. For the smaller ones, having business partnerships with international companies has seemed unreachable. However, when the “door opens”, many international companies will come here and they will bring with them capital which “young” enterprises in Vietnam would love to have. 

We also understand that we need to find ways to thrive in a more competitive business environment; otherwise bankruptcy is the foreseeable result. We therefore need to better train human resources and management so that the integration will offer us more support than harm. 

The challenges that young entrepreneurs will face will be that they either get the chance to quickly expand their businesses or will they will be quickly left behind by the competition. 

PhD Nguyen Dac Vinh, Lecturer of the Faculty of Chemistry, Hanoi National University, Secretary of the university’s youth association: “The young will learn how to shorten the way to develop and to wait for opportunities in front.” 

Better integration into the world will provide Vietnamese youngsters with more opportunities to learn more knowledge and experience from more developed countries. This will shorten the distance that the young have to go to improve their knowledge. 

I think Vietnamese students have very good potential and are not “behind” students from other countries. This explains why when studying abroad, Vietnamese students are just as good as students from other countries. However, when they come back here to work they are left behind in comparison to foreign youngsters. This is obviously because the working environment here does not provide them with opportunities to apply the knowledge they learn overseas.  

I do hope that WTO membership will give us more chances to prove our abilities. This is what I expect the WTO to bring to us. 

Hoang Anh Tuan – Director of Hanoi Branch of Sacombank: “The tradition of older is better and wiser will no longer work.” 

The WTO is the turning point for many young entrepreneurs. Our customers mostly are young private companies. I think with the new “turning point” they will have more opportunities to expand their businesses and cooperate more with international companies as well as to promote their exports, with more customers interested in doing business with them. 

We as a bank will benefit from that. I do believe that the young nowadays have knowledge and will not have to work under the imposing tradition of “older is better and wiser”. If a young worker does well he or she will immediately be recognised and doesn’t need to be older. 

The young people therefore will have more chances to develop in terms of working in positions of managers or scientific researchers. 

Hoang Trong Thanh, student of the School of Technology, Hanoi National University: We have chances to “cope with hot time”. 

We understand that the time for the country to be fully recognised will be more than five years or even longer. This means that young people who are currently students will be the ones to directly deal with what should be called the “hot time”. 

We have the same thinking as other people: We will benefit from deeper integration. However, we need to overcome challenges to get more benefits from integration. 

People have said that after Vietnam joins the WTO there will be an investment wave into the country. This will provide Vietnamese people with more job opportunities, and chances to learn from big corporations. This definitely will be good for us, as with deeper understanding we will play our primary roles in a better way in the WTO time. 

If I talk about studying, I think Vietnamese students will get more advantages, such as better studying conditions, chances to study abroad, financial support from big companies, under a plan to come back to work for them. 

Students will also have chances to be trained through working or practicing with big companies. The government I think will have appropriate policies to have better human resources who have enough knowledge to work in the system or to provide human resources for international investment projects. 

No international investor would be interested in Vietnam if they thought that the human resources here did not meet their criteria. Students are the human resources for their companies, factories in the next five years or seven years, but they will also be the customers who will use the services provided by these foreign investors. 

(Source: TPO)