Vietnam is in the grip of Kong-mania. The film, Kong: Skull Island, broke local box office records when it opened earlier this month.
There’s so much excitement that director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, has been appointed a tourism ambassador for the country. He rarely misses an opportunity to praise the natural beauty of Vietnam during promotional work for his new flick. And he credits Vietnam with creating the breathtaking visuals in the film.
Kong: Skull Island once again brings the magnificence of Vietnam’s natural treasures to the screen.
In 1992, when the country was first opening its doors to the world, French film Indochine was the first to reveal the stunning beauty of Halong Bay on international cinema screens. It triggered a mini-tourism boom out of France.
Another French film of the same year, The Lover, made Saigon's French colonial architecture the backdrop for the cinema version of the Marguerite Duras novel.
Then in 2001, Hollywood arrived for the first time, for a remake of Graham Greene's 1955 novel, The Quiet American. With a cast that included Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, they shot in Saigon, Hanoi, Hoi An and Ninh Binh. Vietnam once again looked gorgeous - even in competition with that weighty tale of political intrigue.
Kong: Skull Island, is a story about fragile eco-systems and man's heavy-handed abuses of the environment. The morality tale may be buried under the special effects and action - but it could be an allegory about Vietnam’s tourism industry and its heavy-handed impact on the country’s natural environment.
In recent years, the travel industry and other industries have been treating Vietnam’s natural environment with the same contempt as the villains in the film - who are, ironically, a group of US soldiers. The soldiers are intent on mindlessly killing Kong, with no concern for the fragile eco-system in which he lives.
Ask most tourism professionals in the business of selling Vietnam's natural beauty, and they’ll tell you that environmental concerns, overdevelopment and pollution, present major threats to the destination’s long term ambitions.
Vietnam is doing well as a tourism destination by many measures. But Halong Bay, Phong Nha, Phu Quoc Island and other spectacular natural marvels, are all buckling under the weight of over-development and pollution, or are set to see heavy-handed development in the years ahead.
Imagining the state of Vietnam's natural environment a decade from now is a scary prospect.
Director Vogt-Roberts could do worse than devote his time as tourism ambassador to the preservation of the besieged natural beauty that he has presented so strikingly in his film. We wish him well!