Movie Theaters in 1951 French Indochina

I came across a document that contains a list of movie theaters in French Indochina in 1951.

The distribution of theaters is predicatable: 14 in Hà Nội, 12 in Sài Gòn, 10 in Hải Phòng, 8 in Phnom Penh, 6 in Chợ Lớn, 3 in Đà Lạt, 2 in Đà Nẵng, and 1 each in Huế, Nha Trang, Vũng Tàu, and Hải Dương.

movie theaters

Meanwhile, the number of seats in these theaters was as follows: 7,500 in Sài Gòn, 6615 in Hà Nội, 5350 in Phnom Penh, 4450 in Chợ Lớn, 4370 in Hải Phòng, 1320 in Đà Lạt, 900 in Đà Nẵng, 500 in Huế, 350 in Nha Trang, 350 in Vũng Tàu, and 250 in Hải Dương.

movie theater Seats

While there is not much that is surprising from these numbers, there are a few things that seem obvious. The high number of movie theaters in cities was not just due to the fact that there were more people there, but also to the fact that there were more Chinese there as well.

There was, for instance, a “Trung Quốc” (“China”) theater in Chợ, Lớn, Hải Phòng, Hà Nội and Phnom Penh. Some of the other theaters must have focused on Chinese films as well.

theater names 1

It is interesting to see that there was only one theater in Huế. I wonder if this was merely due to its smaller population, or if the culture of the old imperial capital somehow discouraged the development of the movie theater industry there.

theater names 2

It is also interesting to see how large the movie theater industry in Phnom Penh was, as well as the fact that there appears to have been a total absence of movie theaters in Laos.


Equal Rights to Makeup in 1930s Vietnam

I came across this nice image in an early issue of the journal Phong Hóa.

A wife is surprised to see her husbands powdering his face, and he responds that it’s “equal rights for men and women.”

The discussion of “equal rights” in the 1920s and 1930s was of course more about increasing the rights of women so that they could enjoy the same rights as men.

But in this image, it is the man who wants some “women’s rights.”

This was meant to be funny. Now, however, it would be interesting to see how the person who made this image would react if he saw a men’s makeup advertisement like this one from contemporary Japan. . .

When an Apsara Ruled the Universe

The apsaras, or celestial female spirits, of Hindu-Buddhist mythology are figures of grace and elegance. They are renowned for their beauty. . . but did any of those apsaras ever actually rule the world with their beauty?

Yes, there actually once was an apsara who ruled not only the world with her beauty, but the entire universe as well!!

She came to power in 1965 in Miami, Florida. Her name was Apsara Hongsakul, Miss Thailand, and in 1965 she became Miss Universe!

Beauty pageants have played an important but controversial role in modern history. While some dismiss them for their objectification of women, others have noted the ways in which beauty pageants are used to promote ideas of an ideal woman for a given nation. Still others have pointed to the many business interests that are at work behind the scenes at beauty pagaents.

I came across a magazine called Thailand Illustrated which was an official Thai publication that promoted Thailand’s image to a foreign readership. One issue in 1965 was dedicated almost entirely to Apsara Hongsakul. This is what it had to say:

“On July 25, 1965 radio listeners and television viewers were exhilarated when they heard the news that Apsara Hongsakul, Miss Thailand, was named Miss Universe 1965. At last, Apsara has done it again and this time she brought it off at the expense of a formidable host of fellow-contestants hand-picked beauties from the four corners of the earth.

“It was amidst the wildly cheering crowds that the radiant, petite Miss Thailand was crowned. For her win, Apsara received a $10,000 cash prize plus $10,000 for personal appearances throughout the world.

“To everybody who asked about her feeling, Apsara humbly said that she could not believe it and she thought it was just a dream.

“Apart from her 35-22-35½ measurements, Apsara has a most radiant smile, an exquisite face, poise, naturalness but, above all, it was reported, her serenity and modest propriety typical of a Thai girl of good family won the hearts of all.

“Apsara’s entry in the Miss Universe Contest was jointly sponsored by the Vajiravudh Alumni Association and the T.O.T. and a great deal of credit for the success was due to M.L. Kamala Sukhum, her able and sophisticated chaperone.”

In looking online for information about the history of the Miss Universe contest, I found that Apsara Hongsakul was the second Asian woman to win the title of Miss Universe. The first was Akiko Kojima from Japan, who won in 1959. The third was Gloria Diaz from the Philippines, who won in 1969.

I guess it should not surprise us to find that these were all women from countries on one side of the Cold War divide.

They may be simply called “beauty” pagaents, but they are certainly about much much more than beauty. Gender ideology, money, national prestige, Cold War politics. . . the list goes on and on.

Nonetheless, you still have to give credit to Apsara Hongsakul for a job well done! She did what no apsara had ever done before.

Lý Công Uẩn in Film and TV

There were several films and TV series made recently about Lý Công Uẩn. They were meant to coincide with the 1,000-year anniversary of Thăng Long/Hà Nội, but some were not completed in time and others were criticized.

One production that was heavily criticized was “Lý Công Uẩn—Đường tới thành Thăng Long” [Lý Công Uẩn—The Road to Thăng Long]. This 12-part TV series was a joint production of the Trường Thành Company in Hanoi and EASTV in Hong Kong. Trường Thành provided the money, and EASTV produced the series.

Shot mainly in Zhejiang Province and costing about 100 billion dong or 5.3 million dollars, the final product was criticized in Vietnam as essentially a “Chinese film in Vietamese.”

Let’s think about this. The director and one executive director were Chinese, while one executive director was Vietnamese. Together they created a TV-series that looks very “Chinese.”

Now, there is historical evidence that Lý Công Uẩn was from Mân [i.e., what is now the area of Fujian Province] and that he had Mân people working for him. And as I wrote here, the Trần were also reportedly from Mân.

Then look at the early “Vietnamese” materials we have. The Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư is modeled after Sima Qian’s Shiji [Historical Records]. The Thiền uyển tập anh emulates Daoyuan’s Jingde chuandeng lu [Record of the Transmission of the Lamp (compiled) in the Jingde Era]. The Truyền kỳ mạn lục follows the style of Qu You’s Jiandeng xinhua [New Tales Told by Lamplight]. The Lĩnh Nam chích quái explicitly states in its preface that it is written in the style of Gan Bao’s Soushen ji [In Search of the Supernatural].

So what is the problem with creating a TV series about Lý Công Uẩn that looks “Chinese” in content and style when Lý Công Uẩn himself and some of his officials probably were from an area in what is today “China” and when the educated elite at that time created history and stories about themselves which employed forms of expression that had already been created by “Chinese”?

I don’t think there is a problem with any of this. However, I still don’t like “Lý Công Uẩn—Đường tới thành Thăng Long,” not because it looks “Chinese” but because it looks too much like a “low quality modern Chinese historical drama.”

Simply put, everything about it looks fake. I feel like I’m on an artificial movie set. I don’t feel like I’m being taken back a thousand years in time.

A film which does succeed better in taking me back in time is “Khát Vọng Thăng Long” [This title has been translated as “Aspirations of Thăng Long” and “The Prince and the Pagoda Boy”].

Although the presentation of this movie in its trailer (and that is all I’ve seen) is very much influenced by Hollywood, and while the martial arts scenes will make people think of modern “Chinese” films, the colors, costumes and scenery in this movie do not look as fake as those in “Lý Công Uẩn—Đường tới thành Thăng Long.”

That said, the costumes in this movie are still not as realistic as they could be. When I heard years ago that films about Lý Công Uẩn were being made, I wondered if anyone would consult historical texts to find information about what people looked like at that time.

One extremely valuable work is a record which, Chen Fu (also known as Chen Gangzong), an envoy from the Yuan Dynasty court, compiled after visiting Đại Việt in 1293.

This work records that men at that time all shaved their heads. Indeed, it said that “the people are all monks.” The only individuals who covered their heads were officials, who wrapped a blue/green (thanh 青) turban around their heads.

In this respect, Khát Vọng Thăng Long is somewhat accurate in the turbans that it has officials wearing. But if when Chen Fu said about the late thirteenth century applied to the period around the founding of the Lý Dynasty then under that turban we should not see any hair.

On this question of hair, Lê Quý Đôn recorded in his Kiến văn tiểu lục that the Ming Dynasty official, Huang Fu, banned the cutting of hair, and that it was therefore only from the early fifteenth century that men let their hair grow long.

In 1293, Chen Fu also recorded that people went barefoot, and that the skin on their feet was very thick. He also said that men and women bathed together in the same river (that scene would have to appear in a Hollywood movie!).

Chen Fu also recorded that slaves had tattoos on their foreheads which indicated who they belonged too, such as “quan trung khách” (官中客) to indicate that they belonged to an official.

Finally, Chen Fu said that men and women both wore clothes that were black.

So while Khát Vọng Thăng Long does seem to do a better job at capturing the past than the TV series Lý Công Uẩn—Đường tới thành Thăng Long, there is more that could be done. Nonetheless, it looks like this movie does succeed in taking its viewers to someplace other than an artificial movie set.

And on the issue of these films being too “Chinese,” again, the elite in the Red River Delta at the time of Lý Công Uẩn shared a great deal with the elite in areas to their north, particularly culture and religion, but even blood. Making a movie that depicts a land that was completely unique would be just as problematic as making it “too Chinese.”

The best solution is just to aim for historical accuracy. But of course it’s also a good idea to add a sexy river bathing scene (Hollywood style) so that people will buy tickets to watch. Or even better, do it Bollywood style with lots of young men and maidens singing and dancing as they frolic in the water. . .

The 1948 Burmese Olympic Team

The Nation reported on 12 August 1948 that members of the Burmese Olympic team were entertained at Buckingham Palace by none other than Their Majesties the King and Queen themselves.

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret also showed up and talked with the Burmese athletes about their Olympic prospects.

In looking at later issues of this newspaper, I did not see any reports on how the athletes actually did. So I’m guessing that meeting with the royal family was perhaps the biggest “victory” of these Olympics for the team from Burma.

The even bigger victory of course was the fact that Burma sent a team to the Olympics in the first place, for it was only at the beginning of that year that Burma became independent from British colonial rule, and therefore became a nation able to participate in this international competition.

This encounter between the king and queen and the Burmese athletes therefore marked a new kind of interaction.

So here’s to the 1948 Burmese Olympic team!! Job well done.

Viet-Nam Music Explained to the Burmese

I was looking at The Nation newspaper from Burma for 22 October 1948 when I came across this article about “Viet-Nam Music.” It is supposed to be a “broadcast talk” by a certain Mr. Hoang-Thinh from Viet-Nam News Service.

I remember reading in the last chapter of Mark Philip Bradley’s Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950 that the Việt Minh had some kind of diplomatic or public relations presence in Rangoon during this period. So I’m guessing that this is what this “Viet-Nam News Service” was.

In any case, Hoang Thinh gave a fascinating overview of the history of modern Vietnamese music. It’s worth quoting the entire piece.

Here it is:

The history of the development of Viet-Nam music reflects the development of the Viet-Nam people. Our present music mainly voices our struggle. It is part of our struggle for national liberation.

Our country lies between two great peoples and two great cultures: the Chinese and the Indian. Through many centuries, the Viet-Nam people struggled against former emperors of China in the North and Champa in the South, the latter having Indian civilization.

The music of these two countries deeply influenced ours. Chinese and Champa music mixed with the local music. The development of music at this stage took two courses: firstly, one adopted by the high classes which was a simple transplantation of Chinese music; secondly, that which got intertwined with local music, and assumed popular forms.

This music, people used during their daily work and their popular festivals, for instance the “Hat Cheo,” the “Ho,” the “Hat trong quan,” etc.

The first type did not survive and disappeared with the invasion of Western music. The second which continued, got a fresh impetus of progress when Viet-Nam regained her independence.

The impact of Western music also took the same course. Western music invaded our country with the French conquest. It is not Western classical music but screen-movie-music, abstract, extravagant in romance love. It was popular among the young people in the cities but never penetrated the villages.

Under the impact of Western music, people used new instruments such as the violin, guitar, piano, etc. . . and solfeggio as the new method to write down music.

Insurgent nationalism powerfully asserted itself in music, just as it did in other branches of art and culture. This nationalism aimed at providing the young generation with truly Viet-Nam songs. Musicians in the Western school started composing short pieces on new airs.

At the beginning, the subjects were romantic, predominantly expressing love songs, but under the patriotic impact, they got more and more healthy, and began to appeal to a vague nationalistic feeling among the people.

The first youth songs were composed by Hoang-Quy, a boy-scout leader, “Musician band” of the Viet-Nam Students’Unionin 1940 marked a new stage. The awakening of nationalism in Viet-Nam that year, was stimulated by the defeat of France in Europe. The opportunity appeared for the Viet-Nam people to break off the fetters and fight efficiently the impending Japanese aggression.

Luu-Huu-Phuoc, a University student, composed “marching songs” and “patriotic songs” composed by Luu-Huu-Phuoc received unprecedented ovation all over the country. The most popular marching song was the “Call to Students” composed by the same author in 1940.

In 1944-45, other revolutionary songs made their appearance from the underground movement led by the Viet-Nam Independence League. The “Down With Facism” of Nguyen-Dinh-Thi, the “Going to the Front” of Van-Cao which later became the National Anthem of the Democratic Republic, were the most outstanding.

It was to the strains of these revolutionary songs that the combatants of the Viet-Nam Liberation Army marched to attack Japanese posts. When the August Revolution came back to the capital: the people heard these resistance songs sung by them with admiration and pride, songs which were prohibited during the whole period of French and Japanese domination.

On December 19, 1945, the Resistance war broke out throughout Viet-Nam. Music accompanied the people to the battle-front. The people needed music that united them, inspired them, and made them make supreme sacrifices for the cause of defense of newly-won independence.

It is not exaggerating to say that music is mixed up with day to day life in Viet-Nam. The new music is the manifestation of the rebirth of Viet-Nam. Each mass organization has its own song, such as the “Children Song,” the “Call to Viet-Nam Women,” the “Viet-Nam Workers’ Song,” the song of “Popular Teachers” who fight illiteracy.

Almost every activity is illustrated by a song. When the campaign of collecting clothes for soldiers started, a song was composed: “Clothes for Servicemen.” The birthday of President Ho-Chi-Minh in 1946 was marked by the famous “Long Live Ho-Chi-Minh.”

But these new songs are more or less Western inspired. The people like them because of their patriotic words but find it difficult to sing. Side by side the popular folk songs were revived. These popular folk songs are re-oriented with new contents for patriotic needs, calling village youths to the battlefront or against the traitors.

Such songs are widespread among the people. This development has brought about a new experience and a richer understanding of the people and music, and their influence on each other.

In light of this experience, the propaganda department set up theatrical troupes which used old forms of playing popular songs with a new content. The subjects are mainly the needs of the Resistance war and needs of reconstruction, such as the grow-more-food campaign, the campaign against illiteracy.

The march of time called upon the musicians to re-orient their art to suit the new conditions and the new needs. The musicians are striving to rise up to the occasion and composed real Viet-Namese music. For this, they study the popular songs, adopt from traditional music the truly Viet-Namese features, and combining them with the best of foreign musical heritage, are patiently modifying and evolving their own music.

In the last Cultural Congress, Viet-Nam musicians called for a patriotic competition for composing truly Viet-Namese music which would suit the masses. Most of the recent songs display a promising future for the development of music.

We hope that these efforts will succeed in building a real Viet-Namese music reflecting the life of our people, their hatred against foreign aggression, their determination to win freedom and democracy and thus make a humble contribution to the treasury of world culture.

Going to the Movies in 1954 Burma

Can a trip to the movies in Rangoon in 1954 tell us anything about Burma at the time? I think it can. In fact, I think it sheds a good deal of light on a fascinating lost world.

Movies in 1950s Burma

The 1950s-1960s was an amazing time in Southeast Asia. It was a time of optimism and experimentation, but many of the experiments ultimately failed.

Sihanouk tried to create a neutral “Oasis of Peace” in Cambodia. In the 1960s, a “modern Khmer” architectural style emerged, and a distinct Khmer sound was created in the world of popular music, but this all came to a terrible end during the Khmer Rouge years in the 1970s.

In South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem sought to forge a non-Communist path toward the future. The cultural and intellectual world of South Vietnam maintained a great deal from the French colonial period, had connections with the “Free Chinese” world of Taiwan and Hong Kong, and increasingly came in contact with the US, but this world likewise came to a tragic end in the 1970s.

Movies in 1950s Burma

Sukarno’s Indonesia was also a fascinating place. Balancing between the Communist and Capitalist halves of the Cold War world, Indonesian sought to create a space for themselves and other newly decolonized nations, but this age of hope and experimentation was brought to a close by the advent of military rule in 1965.

Today, Sihanouk’s Cambodia, Ngo Dinh Diem’s Vietnam, and Sukarno’s Indonesia are long gone, and in fact they are completely forgotten in many ways. This is a shame because these were all fascinating places, and fascinating times.

Movies in 1950s Burma

Burma in the 1950s was also part of this grand experiment to build postcolonial societies on ones own terms. And I think we can get a sense of this when we go to the movies in Rangoon in 1954.

Sure there were some Hollywood movies to see, but the majority of movies were from India.

Movies in 1950s Burma

Like Burma, India was also trying to forge a path to the future which steered clear of the extremes of the Cold War. Nonetheless, there was sympathy among some people in places like India and Burma for the values which the Soviet Union promoted, and Soviet aid was accepted.

It should then not surprise us to find that Russian movies started to be shown in Burma at the time, such as “Sadko,” the first Russian film with Burmese subtitles.

Movies in 1950s Burma

The Soviets, after all, were technologically savvy and had some great artists. The “Men of Daring” in “Super-Russian Colour” with its “tens of thousands of stampeding horses” was undoubtedly a product of such technological expertise and artistry.

Movies in 1950s Burma

Indians, however, were likewise very capable. And there is nothing that made this more obvious then “Shahensha” which was “The First Indian Gevacolor To Beat Out The Hollywood Colors!”

Movies in 1950s Burma

I’m not sure what “Gevacolor” was, but this is around the time that “Technicolor” was popular, so it was obviously another cutting-edge technology for producing color films.

As part of this world which was progressing towards the future, the Burmese of course had to produce movies of their own. The result in 1954 was “The People Win Through,” a film version of a play which had been written by Burmese Prime Minister U Nu.

Movies in 1950s Burma

In looking at these movie advertisements, what struck me is that I had not heard of these films. To me that is a sign of the degree to which this world of 1950s Burma has disappeared.

But this world was not restricted to Burma. Instead, Burma at the time was part of a new world which just starting to emerge at that time. For various reasons, this world in Burma, like its counterparts in places like Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia, did not survive.

Now it is largely forgotten, but for the people who lived through that time it was undoubtedly an exciting period when they felt like they were living in a modern moment and moving toward the future.

The “what ifs” of the past are fascinating. What if this world in Burma had continued to develop? And what if Sihanouk’s “Oasis of Peace” had survived? And what if Ngo Dinh Diem’s and Sukarno’s visions of society had endured?

And what if we still saw the world in Gevacolor?

Business Success Under Colonial Rule in the Philippines

So one of the first things which popped into my mind when I saw the picture for this adverstisement was that it was a symbol of American economic and cultural imperialism. However the blurb below the picture then caught my attention.

It says that Coca-Cola was bottled by the San Miguel Brewery. I looked up the history of the San Miguel Brewery on the Internet and found that it was established in the late nineteenth century when the Philippines was still a Spanish colony.

Not only was it apparently the first brewery in Southeast Asia, it was very successful and the company diversified into other areas, such as the export business, and soft drinks. In 1927, when the Philippines was an American colony, San Miguel started to bottle Coca-Cola.

Ok, so a dairy business which San Miguel tried to set up in Calcutta, India in the 1930s didn’t work so well, but think about that – a Filipino company tried to set up a dairy operation in Calcutta, India in the 1930s!!!

This got me thinking. People have researched and written endlessly about Western colonialism and imperialism, but I don’t think much has been written about the successful economic tactics of some of the colonized. The history of the San Miguel Brewery looks like a great place to start.

Jane Palomar on Marriage and the Filipino Race

I came across this article about the Filipino actress, Jane Palomar, from the early 1960s in a magazine called Graphic. The article is called “Girl With a Mind of Her Own.

In this article, Jane offers various opinions on marriage. For instance, she warns people who are not in the acting profession that they must be open-minded if they decide to marry an actor or actress.

She also explains that 23 “is the ideal age for a woman to settle down and start a family” because “that is the time when she is neither too young nor too old.”

Jane was still only 18 at the time this article was written, so that ideal age was still a few years away, and she claimed to not yet have a man in mind, although she hoped that her future husband would be a gentleman.

Nonetheless, there was one thing which she was certain about – her future husband would definitely be a pure Filipino.

For as the reporter noted about the girl with the mind of her own, “she believes that the Filipino race is the best there is in the world.”

I googled Jane Palomar’s name, and only found 4 movies that she made in the early 1960s. So did her acting career come to an end with her marriage to a gentleman from the best race in the world? If anyone knows what became of Jane Palomar, please inform. Also, it would be interesting to know why it was so important to emphasize race at that time.