Audaces fortuna juvat

Working towards my dream

Miss Saigon: A Woman’s Enduring Love and Sacrifice

Posted by C Moon on November 30, 2007

Recently Yuna Kim, a Korean figure skater, won Cup of China (November 8-11, 2007) and Cup of Russia (November 22-25, 2007), both of which are the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series. She selected Miss Saigon (from the musical Miss Saigon) for the short program. Her performance reminded me of the musical Miss Saigon, which I watched in September last year at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts in Seoul.

The scripts, lyrics, and music of the musical were written and composed by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. They were inspired by a photograph on a magazine, a Vietnamese woman giving up her daughter at Ho Chi Minh Airport for the daughter’s better future in the USA.

Miss Saigon successfully portrays pure and enduring love between an American GI and a Vietnamese woman toward the end of the Vietnamese war, a mother’s love sacrificing her life for her son, and a man’s dream of elevating his social status and gaining entry to America, and grief from the war.

Miss Saigon conveys its themes exquisitely by blending seriousness with joyful satire. Pure love between Kim and Chris during the imminent fall of Saigon, the appearance of Viet Cong and Thuy, who is Kim’s intended husband in their early childhood, Kim’s enduring love for Chris, Kim’s struggle to give Tam a better life, and the problems that remained after the war are presented in a serious tone. In contrast, Engineer, who wants to raise his social status and seeks for a success in America, and Vietnamese bar girls, who wish to be picked up by GIs for the night, delivered their lyrics and music in a rather jocular way.

The musical presents a series of conflicts and tensions that capture the audience in a strained state of mind: Vietnamese and American as transaction parties, Vietnamese and Viet Cong as wartime enemies, Chris and Thuy as love rivals, Kim and Ellen as Chris’ Vietnamese and American wives, and Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City as the two contrasting names for a city. Each character reflects personalities that can be found easily in any society. For example, Engineer symbolizes the Vietnamese who is against Ho Chi Minh. He dearly wants the entry visa to America, the land of promise, and treats GIs nicely in order to get it, but revile against them when they do not give him what he wants. Kim and Ellen struggle for their love and neither can give up with her own rightful reasons. Kim’s love is not only toward Chris, but also toward her little son, Tam. Ellen heard about Kim, and understands Kim’s situation but also cannot give up her love for Chris and marriage, which lasted for years.

Miss Saigon mirrors a small society. While Engineer is driven by the hope for class elevation and American Dream, Thuy is driven by an ambition for success. Thuy betrayed Kim and her family to seek a position in the Communist government, and comes back to Kim to gain her love, despite the fact that he was the cause of her parents’ death. Ellen and Chris justify their thoughts of leaving Tam and Kim in Southeast Asia for their own relief. They do not consider other elements but their marriage, when they say that Kim will understand their decision.

The flow of the musical was flawlessly smooth with the active Engineer leading the story (that is, scenes and acts) forward. Engineer plays a dual role of a character with strong worldly desires and a coupler linking scenes and acts in a natural way.

There are many characters in the musical, wanting for something such as love and success, but the only character who actively seeks what he wants is Engineer. Others say that they want to achieve something, but the whole story is moving along by Engineer’s plan to make his way to America. For example, Engineer’s desire to get to America made possible Kim’s move from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok and Chris’ reunion with Kim. I wonder whether the musical would become stronger and more appealing if characters like Kim were more active in seeking their goals.

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Photo Credits: “Miss Saigon 08” by flickrsampaist on Flickr

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