New film honours Vietnam's timeless Ao Dai

The long-lasting beauty of Ao Dai – the traditional dress of Vietnamese women – has become the inspiration for the film Co Ba Sai Gon (The Tailor), which opens on November 14 in theatres around the country.

new film honours vietnam's timeless ao dai hinh 0

Set in Sai Gon [former name of HCM City] in the 1960s, the movie tells the story of Thanh Mai (played by Ngo Thanh Van), the owner of a boutique tailor shop called Thanh Nu and her arrogant daughter, Nhu Y (played by Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc). 

While her mother tries to convince her daughter to carry on the family’s traditional job making Ao Dai – a craft they have practiced for nine generations – Nhu Y, who is also a designer, thinks the traditional dress old-fashioned. She is interested only in Western-style outfits.

The film flashes forward 48 years to 2017. Nhu Y finds herself old, fat and alcoholic, living in a desolate house that once was a famous and elegant boutique shop. She is also facing potential eviction. 

Face to face, the young Nhu Y of the 1960s and the old Nhu Y (played by Hong Van) of the present have several arguments, blaming each other for the decline of the shop. That is when the arrogant young woman finally opens her eyes to the beauty of the traditional dress. She becomes determined to rebuild the ruined family business by producing the dress.

The vibrant fashion culture of Sai Gon, both past and present, forms a backdrop for the entire movie. In addition, the movie also features several leading women of Vietnamese cinema, including famous 1990s actresses Diem My and Thuy Huong, and two representatives of Vietnamese cinema’s young generation, Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc and Diem My 9x.

One of the movie’s two producers is 38-year-old actress and director Van, who has acted in some Hollywood blockbusters, including Bright which also features Will Smith, Joel Edgerton and Edgar Ramirez; and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny together with Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen and Jason Scott Lee. Van also plays a Resistance gunner in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, scheduled to premiere soon.

According to this multi-talented woman, her ambition was to present a part of Vietnamese culture – the Ao Dai – to the world through the movie.

“In the movie, Thanh Mai, the owner of tailor shop, tells her daughter Nhu Y that ‘Ao Dai is the source of our family business’. And the Ao Dai is the source of Vietnamese culture and the source of this movie,” she said at the premiere last week. “With all experience that I accumulated in Hollywood, I want to contribute to the development of Vietnamese cinema.”

To be able to represent an Ao Dai maker, working to present the ‘quintessence’ of the traditional women’s dress, Van and some other cast members had to study with Ao Dai designer Si Hoang, who even opened an Ao Dai museum in HCM City.

All the Ao Dai worn by the cast were created by HCM City-based designer Thuy Nguyen, who is also the movie’s co-producer.

Before screening in Vietnam, The Tailor was presented at the "A Window to Asian Cinema" category at the 22nd Busan International Film Festival 2017 in the Republic of Korea last month.

The movie is screened in Vietnamese with English subtitles in cinemas nationwide.