Yes,Virginia, there is a Vietnamese-French arthouse film. In fact, there are probably several. all written and directed by Vietnamese-French filmmaker Tran Ahn Hung. The one I saw, 1995’s CYCLO (signed out from the local library) is the second entry from the film-maker and the eagerly awaited follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Scent of Green Papaya.
Apparently (I write the word “apparently” because I am not sure of may be the plot) a young guy (Le Van Loc) driving a rickshaw (rickshaw drivers are known as Cyclos) has his vehicle stolen (I can see the comparisons to The Bicycle Thief but as far as I am concerned the similarities stop there) and he is forced to turn to crime to help support his impoverished extended family.
Tony Leung plays a would-be poet who is also a pimp (Sensitive soul!). Some of his character’s poetry is on the soundtrack. Onscreen he seems to speak very little. That’s okay, though, because Mr. Leung has one of the most expressive faces in Asian cinema. (My favorite performance by Mr. Leung is still In the Mood for Love with John Woo’s Hard-Boiled a distant second.)
Unbeknownst to the Cyclo his sister (Tran Nu Yen-Khe, the filmmaker’s wife in real life) has volunteered to be a prostitute in the poetic pimp’s stable.
The paper thin plot seems to be a vehicle for shots of Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) and its residents at the time of filming. Mr. Hung has a good eye for images. However, the film’s running time (over two hours) and pacing may try the patience of some viewers. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see modern day Saigon and its residents (for better or for worse) written and directed by a Vietnam-born film-maker. (Enough with the American-made Vietnam War movies, already!)
Steven Seagal’s name is above the title but he leaves most of the rough stuff to up-and-coming B-movie hunk Luke Goss (he came all the way from Blighty for flicks like this)
As long as there are guys like me watching junk like this, there will be a market for movies like this.
Oh, and btw (in text talk), if you are wondering about the title, it doesn’t refer to Mexican cartels (the reason I naively signed on – I plead guilty!), it’s about cartels in eastern Europe (where most of Mr. Seagal’s color-by-number action pics are shot.)
(CARTELS is streaming on Netflix at the time of this writing.)