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Bi, Don't Be Afraid (2010)
"Bi, dung so!" (original title)

 |  Drama  |  14 March 2012 (France)
6.7
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 281 users  
Reviews: 4 user | 8 critic

In an old house in Hanoi, Bi, a 6-year-old child lives with his parents, his aunt and their cook. His favorite playgrounds are an ice factory and the wild grass along the river. After being... See full summary »

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Title: Bi, Don't Be Afraid (2010)

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Edit

Cast

Cast overview:
Thanh Minh Phan ...
Bi
Thi Kieu Trinh Nguyen ...
The mother
Ha Phong Nguyen ...
The father
Thuy Hoa ...
The aunt
Tran Tien ...
The grandfather
Mai Chau ...
The nanny
Phuong Thao Hoang ...
The hairdresser
Huynh Anh Lê ...
The student
Kim Long Thach ...
The Aunt's Fiance
Hoang Ha Pham ...
An, Bi's friend
Edit

Storyline

In an old house in Hanoi, Bi, a 6-year-old child lives with his parents, his aunt and their cook. His favorite playgrounds are an ice factory and the wild grass along the river. After being absent for years, his grandfather, seriously ill, reappears and settles at their house. While Bi gets closer to his grandfather, his father tries to avoid any contact with his family. Every night, he gets drunk and goes and see his masseuse, for whom he feels a quiet strong desire. Bi's mother turns a blind eye on it. The aunt, still single, meets a 16-year-old young boy in the bus. Her attraction to him moves her deeply. Written by anonymous

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Drama

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14 March 2012 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Bi, Don't Be Afraid  »

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1.85 : 1
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User Reviews

 
Good try, but where is the sense of humility?
30 August 2012 | by (Singapore) – See all my reviews

2.5 out of 5 stars

The difficulty (or comfort) with reviewing a film from your native country is that your own knowledge and familiarity might lead to a certain degree of bias. Bi is not the first ground-breaking Vietnamese film, certainly, but the word "ambitious" does not seem to be ill-fitting here (Look, Dang Di just participates in the Sight and Sound Director Poll, barely with this debut! What do you think?)

Which is not to say that the film is good enough. Bi seems to look at the Vietnamese family and individuals through a perverted glass. The casting of actors from north to south gives the film the license to extend its comment on the incestuous nature of familial relationships, or the excessiveness of modernity, or the very basic, run-of-the-mill desires of the educated class, to a near universal level, at least within the country. If this symbol of a family represents the way that Vietnamese society currently works, we do not need to look further into the government or the business for a source of corruption.

However, the director cunningly defended his ideas. In one kitchen scene, he suggested that the source of the patriarchal pattern of the family unit in Vietnam is rooted in the Confucian nature of national ideology (which, in his opinion, is never removed during the Socialist period). The uninformed audiences might be easily taken in by his thesis, but those who have at least some basic knowledge about the contemporary history of the country know that this is not entirely true. If anything, the Socialist period provides some level of power to Vietnamese women. If Bi is set in a rural area, Dang Di's ideas about female imprisonment might have worked, but are we supposed to believe that a family at the center of Hanoi still functions in this way? Something like "Season of the Falling Leaves" (Mùa Lá Rụng, a fairly popular TV series in Vietnam) is a much more honest portrait of a broken Vietnamese family on the brink of modernization.

What brings the film further away from reality is the lack of real motivation behind the characters. The mother (played by Kieu Trinh) is beyond submissive, but there is no clue to why she is so. Her husband's (Hai Phong) family never does anything to suppress her, or force her into submission. The fact that she is from Saigon makes it even less believable that she enslaves herself in that manner. There is no back story (for example, her family background, her level of education, etc.) to explain her behavior so as to make her character more convincing. The only explanation that seems to work here is that she is enslaving herself out of love for her husband. Yet, there is no chemistry between the two of them to begin with (except for a dirty, labored sex scene that exemplifies the tone of the entire film). We are left to wonder: why did the two of them even fall in love and marry at the first place? That the wife subjects herself to so much endurance seems more like an plot device to beg for our sympathy, rather than an attempt to explore a recognizable human tragedy. The aunt's (Thuy Hoa) story is actually the better sub-plot here. Her dirty desire (to have sex) with one of her hunky students speaks to her fragility as a woman as well as her pure feeling of boredom with the world around her. Yet, her characterization is so weak, just like other characters in the movie, that at times, she is reduced to a plain "horny" creature, acting out of instincts, without any sense of rationality. So many things in this film are presented purely for shock effects, rather than anything more meaningful. The scene when Kieu Trinh's character embraces her father-in-law in bed after falling to sleep best exemplifies this trend in the film. The shot seems to have less to say about the incestuous tendencies as part of human nature or the rigorous, oppressive familial rule in Vietnam, than the grip that Dang Di's arrogant directional style has on the audiences.

If you want to do a movie that broadly comments on society and family like this one, you have to possess a sense of wisdom and acuity. Look at Edward Yang's Yi Yi, for example. The late director's masterpiece also reveals the hidden desires as well as the materialistic tendencies of an extended family in Taiwan, but his sense of humanism means that we are able to sympathize for the characters. He looks at every issue from a balanced perspective. Dang Di is ambitious, but he is bull-horned, immature in his social philosophizing (if he ever attempts to do so). He simply lacks the emotional hindsight to make a great film. His characters are so one-dimensional, his story construction so futile that I am not sure whether there is anything meaningful to gain from Bi. At the end, the film screams the two words "misogynistic" and "misanthropic" – maybe too loud – but there is no hint what the film is decrying exactly. Or maybe it is attacking everything at the same time: tradition, modernity, materialism, familial ties... In short, nothing seems to escape its offensive pretension (apparent in the film's sexual overdose) to being something higher than itself. We are not Bi, but we are, perhaps, no less frightened.


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