With two short films and three feature films, Tran Anh Hung is now an established director.1 Focusing on his first two feature films—The Scent of Green Papaya and Cyclo—this essay will demonstrate that while they may at first appear self-sufficient and rather unrelated, these films in fact complement and complete one another. If, like all of Tran’s films, both revisit the homeland he left in 1975—Vietnam—they also work through the same fundamental problematic: Vietnam’s (cultural) fatherlessness. Represented by the figure of the orphan, this problematic is embodied by the films’ respective leads: Mùi in The Scent of Green Papaya and the cyclo-driver, referred to as “Cyclo,” in the film of that name. In The Scent of Green Papaya, Tran presents, by way of Mùi’s development from the young peasant who left her village to work as a servant into an accomplished young woman, a feminine solution to the problem of fatherlessness. In Cyclo he presents, in Cyclo’s Ho Chi Minh City experiences, a masculine one. Reading these films as two parts of one journey, this essay will show that these characters’ journeys trace what Tran Anh Hung invites us to read as Vietnam’s journey from servitude to self-assertion and liberation, and the challenges of modern life, its poverty, and its crime. Together, then, this essay will show that The Scent of Green Papaya and Cyclo provide what we might construe as a comprehensive vision of the ways in which Vietnam and its people might resolve their problem of fatherlessness and move into a brighter future. I have chosen to elucidate this journey by following Tran’s symbolic use of color. I will show that Tran uses the symbol of a papaya’s maturation from green (xanh in Vietnamese) to yellow in The Scent of Green Papaya to illustrate Mùi’s development, while in Cyclo, he has Cyclo move from an early association with yellow to an association with blue (also xanh in Vietnamese) to underscore not only that character’s redemption, but Vietnam’s as well.
KeywordsCamera Movement Blue Paint Tennis Court Respective Lead Papaya Seed
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