The Lover (1992)

 

 

Director:   Jean-Jacques Annaud.

Starring:  Jane March (the young girl), Tony Leung Ka Fai (the Chinaman), Frederique Meininger (the Mother), Arnaud Giovanienetti (the elder brother), Melvil Poupaud (the younger brother).

 

The relationship between a young French teen-ager whose family is in need of money and a wealthy Chinese heir in 1929 French Indochina causes both parties problems.

This is a sensuous film and a good one, but these days at least the American audiences might feel a little uneasy.  The French girl is only 15 years old and the wealthy Chinese man is 32.  The girl is very precocious and goes places that would be off limits to white females alone.  Her presence on a ferry heading across the Mekong River brings her to the attention of the Chinese man whose car is being ferried across the river.  The man starts his seduction of the girl slowly.  He drops her off at a boarding school in Saigon without comment, but keeps showing up at her school.  The girl is a willing participant, being attracted by the wealth of the man, his good looks and his attraction to her.

What is most interesting from an historical point of view is the context in which the affair is conducted.  It is an absolute no-no for a white European female to be with a Chinese or Vietnamese man. It would be scandalous, especially given the age of this white European girl.  The young girl feels that she is protected by this socially sanctioned separation; the affair will never get really serious because of the social rules against it. 

Our man from China also has to work within a restricted set of social rules.  Since he has an affair with the young lady, she can never be his wife.  It would be socially unacceptable.  And anyway, his father has arranged a marriage for him with a very wealthy Chinese woman.  In addition, there is a class barrier at work.  The family of the French girl, following the death of the father, is very poor.  She is just not of the same class standing as that of her wealthy lover.  (And this is painfully shown in a restaurant scene with the Chinese man, the French girl and her family.)

So here is French colonialism strengthened by racism and class differentials.  

Even though both parties in the affair intellectually know that their is no future for love between them, the heart has its own reasoning and the pair become dangerously close:  is it love?  And can love survive across race, age and class barriers?            Dr. Patrick L. Cooney. 


Historical Background:

 

The Chinese dominated Vietnam for many years.  That is why the Chinese and Vietnamese cultures vary little.  Many of the Vietnamese customs have come directly from the Chinese culture. 

 

1884-1885  --  France obtained sovereignty over Annam and Tonkin after the Franco-Chinese War. 

1887 (October)  --   French Indochina formed from Annamn (now Vietnam), Tonkin, Cochin China, and the Kingdom of Cambodia.

1893   --  Laos added to French Indochina, which lasted until 1954. The capital was Saigon in today's south Vietnam. 

19th & 20th centuries  --  the Chinese immigrated to Vietnam, mostly residing in the south, especially around Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). They  were primarily engaged in commerce and were economically advantaged.  (Their good position was partially due to their favored status under French colonial rule.)

Prejudice between Chinese and Vietnamese has existed for years and many Chinese in Vietnam considered themselves Chinese, not Vietnamese. The Chinese segregated themselves into the city of Cholon, not far from Saigon.

1940 (September)  --  during WW II, Vichy France granted Japan permission for military access to Tonkin. The Japanese used Tonkin as an access point to China in the Sino-Japanese War (and against Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek).  The Japanese let the French Indochina bureaucracy in place to run French Indochina.

1945 (March 9)  --  France liberated.  Japan took complete control of French Indochina.  The Viet Minh, an organization of Communist Vietnamese nationalists under Ho Chi Minh, then took control of the oppositional forces.  The United States had supported the Viet Minh as long as they resisted the Japanese.

1945 (August)  --  the Japanese surrender, ending WWII.

post-WWII  --  France tried to reassert its control in the area, but were opposed the Viet Minh, who controlled the countryside outside the cities.

1945 (September 2)  --  Ho Chi Minh persuaded Emperor Bao Dai to abdicate.  Ho became the president of the newly declared Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

1945 (September)  --  a force of British, French and Indian soldiers, along with captured Japanese troops, restored French control.

1946-1954  --  First Indochina War.

1950   --  Ho again declared an independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam, recognized by China and the Soviet Union. 

1954  --  the French lost the Battle of Dien Bien Phu to the Vietnamese. This ended French involvement in the region.  Vietnam was split into two parts, North Vietnam (under Viet Minh control) and South Vietnam, with the understanding that the South would later be united with the north. 

1957  --  the start of the Vietnam War with gradually escalating troop levels. 

 

 

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