Set in Vietnam, The Building is an account of life in a former hotel requisitioned by the army to lodge revolutionary cadres from 1975 until the end of the 1980s. One might have expected the movie to be a kind of final reckoning on both the Vietnam War and the difficulty of rebuilding a devastated country, but this is visible only in the destinies and social evolution of the various characters.
The film is much more than simply a hangover from the Vietnam War. The lighting, which has an artificial feel, gives every scene the flavour of a genre movie, and the unreal sound of the dubbed dialogue recalls Chinese melodramas of the 1970s or American dramas of the 1950s. In such an unrealistic atmosphere, the relationships and conflicts between the characters take on a quality that is both synthetic and crystal clear at the same time.
The movie centres on Tham, an old man who used to be the hotel's caretaker during capitalist times and who is given his job back by the communists when thebuilding is converted into a collective apartment block. Tham is a kind of grandfather figure to all the families who live there in harmony; but as the country slowly adjusts to a market economy, Tham realises that people's way of thinking is changing.
The director, Viet Linh, says some Vietnamese viewers have called the film "anti-communist" and "against the government". It may well be against the present liberal regime but it certainly isn't anti-communist. Through the figure of Tham, the film expresses a yearning for the kind of idealised collectivism that characterised the reunified country's first stage. It is all part of the innocence of the movie, which has a far more human flavour than some doctrinaire pamphlet.