The story we know as Cinderella is an ancient folk tale with thousands of versions told all around the world. A little online research reveals that the story of Rhodopis, recounted by the Greek geographer Strabo around 7 BC, about a Greek slave girl who marries the king of Egypt, is usually considered the earliest known variant of the Cinderella story.
The Vietnamese version is called Tam and Cam, where Tam is the protagonist and Cam her wicked stepsister. In Ngô Thanh Vân’s beautiful film Tam and Cam: The Untold Story after the shoe fits and she marries the prince, Tam’s troubles are just beginning.
“…Cinderella is an ancient folk tale with thousands of versions told all around the world.”
Epic tales from bygone times tend to wander a bit, such as Beowulf, or The Táin from Ireland. They aren’t necessary in a strict narrative form or in sequence with the layers building on the previous tales. Events can happen in any order. The dead reappear randomly. It’s part of the magic of the epic oral tradition. The same is true of Tam and Cam as the story weaves around Tam being killed by her stepmother and then reincarnated as birds and trees and fruit. It’s a meandering, long form revenge tale in many disparate parts.
The film deviates in interesting ways from the original Vietnamese folk tale, which is much more bloody and brutal. The film’s narrative is shored up with some familiar style conflict involving the young prince losing his father and threats from the neighboring kingdom of Chinh La. When Queen Tam dies at the hands of her stepmother, stepsister Cam takes Tam’s place with the King by tradition and she brings more betrayal, evil magic and palace intrigue.
“War, betrayal, wire fu, and magical realism keep things lively.”
Cannibalism in the folk tale is missing from the film, which has a more coherent arc story culminating in a satisfying final battle against the big evil. This delightfully becomes an old school stop motion monster-palooza as the film turns in wilder and more exciting circles. War, betrayal, wire fu, and magical realism keep things lively.
Artful production design, costumes, and sets are all beautifully shown off with lush and sumptuous cinematography. Colors flow and pop and epic landscapes wheel by majestically. The action bounces on high energy and the characters bring the story to life.
This entertaining voyage to feudal Vietnam is great fun and will inspire you to curiosity about the story and the history of that beautiful land and its people.
Tam Cam: The Untold Story Written and directed by Ngô Thanh Vân. Starring Isaac, Ha Vi.
8 out of 10