When I turned 18 back in the spring of 1971, I became eligible for the military draft and a trip to the Vietnam War. Vietnam then was served up each night on the news. It was a place of death and struggle. A cratered and stripped landscape filled with innocents, insurgents, soldiers and destruction. A nation divided and torn to bits by the ravages of war. Its people were caught in the death grip of world politics and something called, “The Domino Theory,” a thousand miles plus from my relatively carefree life in Flint, Michigan. Each image appeared as nothing but a dark cloud on life’s horizon.
I was indeed a fortunate son, as my draft number was never called in the final years of the war. The unwinnable war and waste of life ended in January of 1975, with the fall of Saigon. Vietnam and its people were finally left to heal and rebuild their country.
Fast forward to February 2014. I have been asked to be a part of the committee to choose films for the Capital City Film Festival (CCFF). And I am about to watch the first of many films; some great and some not so great. One of the films worth seeing is a Vietnamese film called Koan of Spring. Don’t let the name fool you into thinking it has anything to do with zombies and English pubs. In fact, it is far from it.
The film is set in Vietnam in the days and times of emperors and martial arts masters. It is a tale of relationships to others and more importantly, to one’s self. It also is a compelling story of movement and vision. The first thing I noticed about this film is how beautifully captured it is. Each shot a portrait of stunning beauty and serenity. The simple and complex are woven like a tapestry into and across the landscapes that the master must traverse, while on his ultimate quest to find his replacement as the emperor’s defender. The sound design, like the cinematography, is full of texture and harmonizes well with the visual richness of this fine film.
Once our master has reached his destination the relationships between a father, his two sons and a daughter intertwine with that of our master. This is where the testing for the next master begins. To tell you anything more would be a spoiler, and therefore I will not say anything more about Koan of Spring, other than it has transformed my thinking about the country and people of Vietnam. It is a film worth seeing.
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