Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Saturday, April 29, time 9.00 AM


By date


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Tam Cam: The Untold Story

The progress being made by commercial Vietnamese cinema never fails to astound us. If on the one hand the local public seems to have given its stamp of approval for home-made products, on the other, this fealty is being thoroughly repaid by huge steps forward in terms of technical advances and ambitions. Tam Cam: The Untold Story, the second outing as director for Veronica Ngo (or Ngo Thanh Van, known to the Udine public for her role in The Rebel by Charlie Nguyen) is perhaps the best proof of this development.

Inspired by a local legend, retold and mashed-up by five screenwriters with a cocktail of disparate references and nods to commercial Hollywood and Oriental cinema (martial arts and Chinese wuxiapian), the main character of the story is a sort of Vietnamese Cinderella, Tam (played with grace and innocent style by Ha Vi), who finds herself in a high-protein blend of narrative twists which go way beyond good fairies (here, the “fairy” stand-in is the classic Asian grandfather with a long white beard) and lost slippers (oh yes, we even have a shoe searching for its rightful owner, but with an interesting variant on the sequence of events).
But let’s take things one step at a time… Because yes, Tam, like Cinderella, is tormented by a cruel stepmother and a coquettish good-for-nothing stepsister. But her Prince Charming, who she meets in one of those love-at-first-sight moments right at the start of the film, has a good few worries of his own. Because his father is on his deathbed and, in view of his coronation, the strapping Prince has to deal with a complex diplomatic situation with the nearby kingdom of Chinh La, which could descend into conflict. And we soon realise (from his very first appearance on the screen), that the High Magistrate who advises the king is devising a nefarious plot of his own – and we will eventually discover a rather terrifying double identity. Indeed, the Cinderella narrative only occupies the first half of the film, because it then goes off on a tangent with a fusion of Oriental flavours, including death-defying eternal love, martial arts fights, epic battles, sword fights and even battles with monsters in CGI… all perfectly planned out for 3D vision! And it aims to please as wide a public as possible: from young girls who sigh over the romanticism, to boys keen on videogame-style combats.

Although the mix may sound bulimic and indigestible, Tam Cam: The Untold Story flows with a surprisingly well-oiled smoothness. There are perhaps a couple of forced, incongruous passages (due to the difficulty in managing so many characters and bringing together the various threads of the tale), but Veronica Ngo keeps the narrative flow under control. And this is thanks to a certain lightness of touch in directing, a certain graceful airiness, which lessens the weight and adds movement even to the parts which are not action-packed (for example, the sequence in the palace or the moment when the Prince is being healed). Without forgetting that, through a series of supporting roles, like the “fairy father” or Nguyen Luc, one of the Prince’s footmen, the story is kept in check by a corrective irony of sorts. And while you could bring up the usual objection of “if you try to please all, you end up by pleasing nobody,” Tam Cam: The Untold Story proves that even in the most varied of menus, perhaps there is a dish that can satisfy the majority of spectators. And, without a doubt, it provides an encouraging sign of the future joys Veronica Ngo could bring to the big screen.
Paolo Bertolin
Film director: 
Thanh Van Ngo
Running time: 




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