Madam Phung's Last Journey
Dance • 1h 26m
Directed by Nguyễn Thị Thấm • Documentary • 2014 • 87 minutes
A former monk who left monastic life because 'I saw beautiful fags praying, and felt like running away,' Madam Phung is a canny businesswoman who got her start as a singer, and saved her money in the form of gold bars she would bury in the ground. Now she is something of a den mother to her largely transgender troupe - berating them when they drink or fight too much, warning them to stay out of trouble, and dealing with local police and occasionally hostile locals when necessary. It's the classic carny existence: long hours; setting up and tearing down the stage; exhorting the crowd to buy raffle tickets and play games; putting on a show. But the people we meet in MADAM PHUNG'S LAST JOURNEY are not your ordinary fairground workers. This verite documentary takes us on a year-long ride with an itinerant troupe of cross-dressing performers, led by Madam Phung, as they travel the remote southern regions and central highlands of Vietnam. MADAM PHUNG'S LAST JOURNEY also captures its subject at a critical moment in her life. Now 40, she is haunted by fears of ageing, concerned with fixing bad karma, and worried about what might happen to her troupe after she is gone. From change rooms, to on-stage performances, to time spent in tour buses, filmmaker Nguyễn Thị Thấm develops a remarkable rapport with the performers. They share their fears, expose their vulnerabilities, and talk about the challenges of being gay in Vietnam: including employment discrimination and dealing with audiences who might just as easily throw rocks at the performers as try to hit on them during the show. "Madam Phung is, at 40, a star, an impresario and a protector of a collection of slim-hipped boys with glittering eye shadow, extreme false lashes and marabou headpieces." - The New York Times
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