80s series about Viet Cong agent hits right notes

The top Vietnamese movie of the 1980s, Ván Bài Lật Ngửa (Cards Game Showdown), was part of a popular spy series of films produced by the HCM City General Film Studio (now State-owned Giai Phong Film Studio).

80s series about Viet Cong agent hits right notes
Late actor Nguyen Chanh Tin performs in the series Ván Bài Lật Ngửa (Cards Game Showdown), a spy film about Viet Cong intelligence agents during the American war. It was the top Vietnamese movie of the 1980s from the HCM City General Film Studio, now the state-owned Giai Phong Film Studio. (Photo courtesy of the producer)

The series of eight films were adapted from the novel Giữa Biển Giáo Rừng Gươm (In the Midst of Enemies) by revolutionary and historian Tran Bach Dang. 

The novel is based on the story of a communist secret agent Pham Ngoc Thao from North Vietnam who was a member of the Vietnam Workers’ Party (now the Communist Party of Vietnam). Thao hid under the identity of a senior official working for Ngo Dinh Diem, who served as President of the Republic of Vietnam from 1955-1963.  

The film Ván Bài Lật Ngửa was written and directed by the late Le Hoang Hoa, who worked on 100 movies and videos before and after 1975. It starred Nguyen Chanh Tin in the leading role.

Released in 1982, the first film, Đứa Con Nuôi Vị Linh Mục (The Archbishop’s Foster Son), was a huge hit in the industry.

The work portrays Nguyen Thanh Luan, a Việt Cộng (Vietnamese communist) agent who went undercover in the government of South Vietnam as a foster son of Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, an elder brother of President Diem. 

Director Hoa used a realistic story mixed with fantasy to feature Luan’s secret activities and the risks he faced of being discovered by his enemies. Patriotism, loyalty, bravery and intelligence were also highlighted in the film. 

The film won the Special Prize for Feature Film at the sixth Vietnam Film Festival in 1983. 

In 1985, the fourth film Cơn Hồng Thủy Và Bản Tango Số 3 (The Flood and Tango No 3) won the Silver Lotus award, the top prize for best feature film at the seventh Vietnam Film Festival.

The sixth film, Lời Cảnh Cáo Cuối Cùng (The Last Warning) in 1987 continued to make waves among critics and audiences. Several thousand people in Hanoi flocked to the Thang Tam Cinema to watch Tin on screen.

One year later, Tin was awarded the Best Film Actor at the eighth Vietnam Film Festival in Da Nang Province.

 “Ván Bài Lật Ngửa highlights the contribution of Viet Cong agents to the cause of national liberation and reunification,” female director Le Phong Lan of Ban Sac Viet Studio, one of HCM City’s private film companies, said. 

“It is still fresh and considered the peak of the Vietnamese spy film, although local producers have released dozens of high-tech spy works in the past decades.”  

Agent Nguyen Thanh Luan 

The late actor Nguyen Chanh Tin, who was from Sai Gon (now HCM City), was chosen to play agent Luan among a group of several movie stars and skilled actors.

Tin was born into a family with a martial arts tradition. His nephews, Charlie Nguyen and Johnny Tri Nguyen, are the well-known Vietnamese-American film producer and actor, respectively. Both work in HCM City. 

Tin began his career as a singer and first appeared in a movie in 1972 in Sai Gon.

After 1975, he had leading roles in many films and videos by award-winning directors such as Nguyen Hong Sen. However, it was his role as a Viet Cong agent in Ván Bài Lật Ngửa that shot him to fame. 

“Many fans who lived in the 1970s and 80s have never forgotten Tin’s good looks and character in Ván Bài Lật Ngửa,” said Do Thi Van Giang, a fan from Hanoi.

“He was called Vietnam’s Alain Delon after the French cinema legend.”

His last project was a comedy series from HCM Television which aired in 2017.

 

His died in his sleep at the age of 67 in HCM City in January this year. It was a shock for millions of Vietnamese fans at home and abroad.

Many fans posted comments on social media, saying “Farewell, Nguyen Chanh Tin - Agent Luan! Rest in Peace!”

“Nguyen Chanh Tin was an outstanding actor who left a long-lasting impression in the hearts of Vietnamese fans for his talent and passion in every role," said Deputy Minister of Culture, Sport and Tourism Ta Quang Dong.

"He was part of and witnessed the growth of our cinema," he added.

Revolutionary films

80s series about Viet Cong agent hits right notes
A scene from Chị Tư Hậu (Mrs Tu Hau) by late director Pham Ky Nam in 1963. The film features the beauty and bravery of southern women. It is one among revolutionary films from 1962 to 1975 that helped pushed the industry to higher heights. Photo courtesy of the producer

The Vietnamese revolutionary motion picture industry was established officially in March 1953, but activities actually started in 1947 when the Southern Cinematography and Photography Branch (SCPB) opened in the Dong Thap Muoi region (now located in Dong Thap, Tien Giang and Long An provinces).  

Films by southern artists of the SCPB during the French and American wars are considered canons of the art. 

SCPB artists such as Mai Loc, Khuong Me and Tran Kiem worked hard to make lively war documentaries and films. Some of the artists died during the period.

The first work of SCPB was Trận Mộc Hóa (Battle in Moc Hoa) in 1948, a documentary by the late cameraman, film director and People’s Artist Khuong Me and his colleagues, People’s Artist Mai Loc and Meritorious Artist Vu Son.

The film was first released in December 1948, featuring the victories against the French of Battalion 307's soldiers. It won the Silver Lotus award at the second Vietnam Film Festival in 1973.

The film’s director Me received the Licorne d’Or at the Amiens International Film Festival in France in 1997. 

Films by younger generations such as directors Mai Loc, Pham Ky Nam, Hai Ninh, Nguyen Hong Sen and Tran Khanh Du pushed the Vietnamese revolutionary film to higher heights from 1962 to 1975.

Many of their works featured the beauty and bravery of Vietnamese women. They are still being used to train students at art schools at home and abroad.  

Highlighted films include Chị Tư Hậu (Ms Tu Hau) by late director Nam in 1963 and Vĩ Tuyến 17 Ngày Và Đêm (17th Parallel -- Days and Nights) by Hai Ninh in 1972. Both productions focus on southern women and their characteristics.

Through the films, talented actresses Tra Giang, Bich Lien and Thuy Van rose to fame and became the industry’s first movie stars. Giang won the best actress prize at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1963 and 1973.

“Revolutionary films help young people of different generations learn about the country’s heroic history and culture,” said director Lan of Ban Sac Viet Studio.

“The Vietnam Cinematography Association and HCM City Cinematography Association should work more closely to maintain the quality of films produced during the revolution because they are part of the country’s history,” she said. VNS

Thu Mai

Cable TV station airs Vietnamese revolutionary films

Cable TV station airs Vietnamese revolutionary films

A TV programme featuring Vietnamese revolutionary films on Saigontourist Cable Television (SCTV) of HCM City has attracted audiences in southern provinces.  

Rare documentary about President Ho to be broadcast

Rare documentary about President Ho to be broadcast

A documentary portraying President Ho Chi Minh’s personality and revolutionary career made by French director Gerard Guillaume (1931-2015) will be broadcast in Vietnam for the first time today.

 
 

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