I was looking at an issue of a kind of magazine/newsletter that the South Vietnamese Embassy in the US used to publish called Viet-Nam Bulletin. In 1969 there was an issue that focused on culture.
That issue talked about the cultural realms of theater, music and television, but I was particularly interested in what it had to say about movies. It noted, for instance, that in the late 1960s more than 24 million movie tickets were sold in South Vietnam each year, and that there were 94 theaters with a total capacity of 64,000 seats.
The article then provides the following information about the film industry and the films that were being viewed:
“The first silent film produced in Vietnam was, predictably, the Kim Van Kieu, and that was in 1921. The industry reached its peak in 1957 when 28 feature films were turned out by 14 commercial film producers. Today there are 18 producers authorized to make movies. . . Stories of spies and beautiful women are most popular, followed by variations on the Cai Luong type of drama and fictitious accounts of South Vietnamese soldiers invading North Vietnam.”
“To supplement this fare, 34 film importers distribute from 200 to 450 feature films throughout the country every year. Forty-five percent of these films come from the Republic of China and the rest from 12 other nations, principally the United States, Italy, India and Japan.”
What caught my attention here was the statement that 45% of the foreign films shown in South Vietnam came from the Republic of China. That 45% statistic may be true, but surely these films were coming from Hong Kong too, as that was the main center of film production in what I call the “Free Chinese World” at that time.
This idea of the Free Chinese World and its importance for Southeast Asia is one that I keep thinking about, and statements like this one make it even clearer to me how vibrant and important that cultural world was.
1969 was the height of the period “American influence” in South Vietnam and yet more films from the Free Chinese World were being viewed than films from Hollywood. So why doesn’t anyone talk about the 1960s as the height of the period of Free Chinese World cultural influence? Clearly it was, and not just in South Vietnam, but in many other places in Southeast Asia.