Phan Dang Di is the wunderkind of new Vietnamese cinema — a bold, uncompromising talent who has, in two short years, made his mark at several prestigious film festivals while garnering awards worldwide. His controversial short film When I Am 20 was banned in his home country but competed at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. The next year, the Bui Thac Chuyen-directed Adrift, which was penned by Phan, won the FIPRESCI prize in Venice. Finally, his directorial debut, Bi, Don’t Be Afraid!, was invited to Cannes and managed to capture two awards in the process.
All the acclaim does not come without controversy, as Bi, Don’t Be Afraid! Boldy demonstrates with its explicit nudity. But the sensuality is not meant to be shocking; instead, it serves as a counterpoint to the director’s careful examination of Vietnamese society and the inhibitions of its citizens.
The film is mostly seen through the eyes of Bi, a precocious six-year-old boy whose favourite pastimes are visits to an ice factory and the nearby riverbank. He lives with his parents, his aunt and his grandfather, who suddenly returns with a grave illness after a long absence. This drives Bi’s alcoholic father to seek the company of an attractive young masseuse. Meanwhile, his aunt, a teacher, is obsessed with a 16-year-old boy who attends her school. As the temperature soars, so do their burning desires …
Far from a simple coming-of-age tale, the film contrasts the gradual deterioration in the adults’ lives with the youthful innocence of a perceptive young boy. The cinematography is stunning, and the film captures the everyday rhythm of a sun-baked Hanoi with sumptuous accuracy. This is a remarkably assured directorial debut that heralds the arrival of one of Asia’s most promising new filmmakers.
– Raymond Phathanavirangoon