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Nguyen Tan Hoang – Pirating the Popular Culture

Video artist Nguyen Tan Hoang spoke and showed eight of his experimental short films at Vassar yesterday. His works are ranging from four to eighteen minutes addressing various topics such as gay Asian American, Vietnamese pop cultures, and sex stereotype of Asian male in mainstream America media. Hoang received his Studio Art’s MFA at the UC Irvine, and is working on his PhD in Rhetoric/Film Studies at UC Berkeley.

From the visual aesthetic sense, Hoang needs tremendous improvements. His amateur productions bring down his messages, way down. I don’t expect Hollywood quality from him, but decent shooting and editing will enhance his works. For instance, Forever Jimmy! is a slideshow featured Asian pop pretty boys including familiar faces of Andy Lau, Jackie Cheung, Aaron Kwok, and Leon Lai. Of course, he also threw in gay pornography to complete the sticky homoeroticism. The way he made the transitions from one image to the next were so bad (too jerky and too many cheesy effects) that I almost began to get seasick. Thankfully, it was only six minutes long or else I have to walk out of the auditorium.

His concept in Pirated! shares some similarities with my “A Few Gifts For My Homeland.” He also used “Mot Chut Qua Cho Que Huong,” but a Khanh Ly’s rendition. The main difference between our works is that I tell mine from the women’s and children’s view while he tells his from a gay man’s standpoint. The video starts off with clips of fleeing boat people then progresses into homosexual pirates. Even though the piece relates to the Vietnamese people, he hesitates to show it to them because he concerns about the homosexual context. With the political issues I had faced with my own work, I understand where he’s coming from. Been there and done that, but I have also learned and met many open-minded individuals through the entire controversy. I feel that the Vietnamese-American community is not so conservative anymore. My negative reaction to Pirated! is not the homosexuality (I don’t have a homophobic problem) but the way he presented it. The experience is pretty disgusting when listening to Dalena singing “Lan va Diep” while watching two guys fucking, especially when we understand the lyrics. “Lan va Diep” is not a lovemaking tune. A couple has to be real tasteless to be humping to that song. He should have just incorporated some Chinese-translated songs, and the scene would have worked fine. Maybe a Vietnamese campy version of ABBA’s “Voulez Vous” would be better.

Speaking of Dalena, Cover Girl: A Gift From God is an eighteen-minute documentary on the talented American female who sings perfect Vietnamese. Hoang pulled together clips from Thuy Nga’s Paris By Night video, and he did a horrendous editing job. The film fails badly because it gives viewers the wrong impression about Dalena (she did look horrible on some of the Thuy Nga’s clips). The audiences were giggling and laughing at her. So the video comes across as an exploitation of Dalena, but I am glad that wasn’t Hoang’s intention. He reemphasized at the end of the lecture that he respects her talent and the film was not meant to be ridicule.

I give Hoang props for his openness about his cultural and sexual identities. In Forever Bottom!, he wants to give viewers the feeling of fucking an Asian guy by putting us, the audiences, in the top position. The four-minute clip shows the pleasure of the bottomhood as the guy being slammed in the anal in various public places including in the car, on the beach, and on the bench. Hoang gets his point across well with the in-your-face, hardcore style, but he should have done it a professional and classy manner. I also hope that he reaches deeper into Vietnamese music around the world rather than just relying on Thuy Nga’s production for his research on Vietnamese pop culture. His perception on Vietnamese music is the recycling of same old songs. That is what he gets when he only looks at Thuy Nga’s products. The music scene has been evolving drastically and many new, original works are from independent musicians around the world and especially in Viet Nam. And for art’s sake, learn the aesthetics of filmmaking. I highly recommend Hillman Curtis on Creating Short Films for the Web.

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