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Spectral Imaginings and National (Be)Longing in When the Tenth Month Comes and Spirits

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Dang Nhat Minh’s When the Tenth Month Comes (1984) revolves around a woman who safeguards her husband-in-law’s family from the fact of her husband’s death during Viet Nam’s war with Cambodia. Shot in black and white, its expressive qualities are translated on-screen through the actors’ emotional gestures and facial expressions. The film invites spectators to experience alongside the female protagonist the processes of mourning that mark her character development and denouement within the narrative. On the other side of the spectrum, Spirits (2004) is a film made by Vietnamese American Victor Vu. Filled with horrifying images of female ghosts, this film employs well-known Vietnamese American actors from Southern California to play the major leads. In fact, Vu has made several films that deal with the experiences of Vietnamese Americans. Here, however, Vu changes the terrain entirely: he shoots his film in Santa Ana, California, yet sets his film in present-day Viet Nam within an abandoned haunted house. As I will argue, despite the setting, the imprint of a Vietnamese American sensibility limns the film’s frames both in terms of its production and themes. What unites the two films is the suturing function that the ghosts perform for the characters in the films, making the protagonists conscious of the atrocities of the recent past. The notion of a recent temporality is key and provides the basis for the films’ critiques; the ghosts are not hoary figures from long ago, but rather, they are reminders of the still-present horrors of the contemporary era. This essay interrogates the ideological effects and visual performances of the ghostly repressed as contemporary figurations of Vietnamese imperialism and patriarchy
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Keywords: Dang Nhat Minh; Spirits; Victor Vu; When the Tenth Month Comes; ghosts

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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  • Asian Cinema is a seminal journal, which has been published since 1995 by the Asian Cinema Studies Society under the stewardship of Professor John Lent. From 2012 Asian Cinema will be published by Intellect as part of our Film Studies journal portfolio. The journal currently publishes a variety of scholarly material - including research articles, interviews, book and film reviews and bibliographies - on all forms and aspects of Asian cinema. The journal's broad aim is to advance understanding and knowledge of the rich traditions of the various Asian cinemas, thereby making an invaluable contribution to the field of Film Studies in general.
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