Friday, October 2, 2015

The Victory Recalled - By Ron Nguyen

The following essay was submitted to me by a reader of this blog. If anybody else out there has any stories related to Southeast Asia's movie theaters they'd like to share, feel free to send them along.

I remember going to the Rap Victory (Vietnamese, like Thai, puts the name after the establishment, “rap” meaning “theater”) in District 5 to see Chinese swordfight movies – “wuxia” I believe is the term for this film genre – those were the pre-kung fu era movies that featured swordfights and wirework, churned out like clockwork by the Shaw Brothers Studios. (Actually this was the beginning of the Golden Harvest Studios’ reign, which burst through the silver screen with “The Big Boss,” the debut feature of the kung fu movie legend known as Bruce Lee.) Rap Victory’s birth certificate also cited a Vietnamese name: for those who couldn’t pronounce “Victory” it was called Rap “Le Ngoc” (“Crystal & Diamonds”- possibly a wishful allusion to the grander state of affairs befitting an opera house?) In the press or advertisements it always went by “Victory Le Ngoc.” Maybe there was a chandelier or two hanging in its foyer? Memories fail me at this point.

I was still in junior high, which dated Rap Victory back to late 1960’s. Come to think of it the theater predated even the 1968 Tet Offensive, the turning point of the (North vs. South) Vietnam War, because I recall the fiery hubris of this tense period making reference to its location as a landmark, District 5 being one of the few districts in the city that saw troops engaging in direct combat. On the northern end of the same district, where my family lived, the Hotel Victory (no relation to the theater) which served as an American GI’s barrack was blown up one night one block away from our house.

I was glad to see from your blog that the theater still exists and even thrives (as of 2010) I might say, even though back in the days, the motorcycles had a proper “parking lot” (Saigon/HCMC has always been a two-wheeled vehicle town), a covered alley to one side of the theater, as opposed to being kept right there in the lobby. Maybe the new government was fond of the name “Victory,” therefore allowed the theater during the early postwar years to keep its doors open – and its name intact, albeit under a more apt Vietnamese translation: “Toan Thang” means total victory. (Had it not been for its new indigenous name I would not have recognized the place.) This is an indicative aspect of the war’s house-clearing aftermath because most names belonging to the former regime, names of streets, establishments, and institutions whether they ideologically stuck out like a sore thumb or not were summarily changed, or shall I say, eradicated.