Nearly 30 years ago the French film director Jean Jacques Annaud went to the Mekong Delta Province of Dong Thap to shoot scenes for his film "The Lover." He was seduced by the beauty of the ancient house of Huynh Thuy Le, and decided that it would form a part of his movie.
Many people saw the house in the film – which featured Jane March and Tony Leung Ka-fai as a French girl and a Chinese man who fell in love in 1920s Vietnam – and have made the journey to Dong Thap to visit it.
The house is located in Nguyen Hue Road, Sa Dec Town, Dong Thap Province, with East -West architecture. While the outside appearance of the building is a French design, the interior is totally Vietnamese.
The centerpiece of the house is a large ancestral altar, which is lacquered in red and trimmed with gold.
The house's biggest surprise however is its treasure trove of ancient objects that have been preserved for generations. There is a round marble table dating back to the 18th century, a couple of 19th century hanging lamps, and a set of French table and chairs from the 17th-century reign of Louis XIV.
The house is also equipped with beautiful ancient wooden furniture, and everything from the wash basin to the jars in the kitchen are valuable antiques.
According to Ngo Thi Ngoc Lien, the old woman charged with looking after the house and receiving visitors, many collectors regularly come to ask the family to sell the ancient objects. Their request has always been refused, even during times when the life of the owner's family was very difficult.
The 300sq.m house has witnessed the rise and fall of her family through Vietnam's turbulent history. It was built in 1895 by a family named Duong, who first arrived in the southern region by the late 19th century.
The actual owner of the house is Duong Chan Hien, the grandson of Duong Chan Ky, a landlord who was a developer in the 20th century. According to Lien, when French colonialists occupied the region they forced her family to leave the house, and soldiers lived in the building during those years.
The house has now become a place of worship for the Duong family. During festive days and anniversaries of family members death, the children and grandchildren gather together to commemorate their ancestors and organize big celebratory parties. Except on those special days, the house is open to visitors for the whole year.
Lien said that she has welcomed tourists from many different countries, a lot of them drawn to the house by The Lover.
Lien explains that Duong Van Ngon (1905-85), from the fifth generation of the Duong family, loved orchids. He tried to collect various kinds along with other flowers. His descendants have cared well for the garden, which includes a 40-year-old 10-meter cactus.
Inspired by the success of the location in that film, numerous local directors have chosen to shoot their movies in Binh Thuy. It has starred in Chan Troi Noi Ay (The Distant Horizon), Nhung Neo Duong Phu Sa (The Silt Ways), and Cay Tre Tram Dot (the Hundred-Knot Bamboo Tree).
Thanks to its antique beauty, it has been recognized as a national relic for architectural arts by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism since March 2009. This new recognition has made the house even more attractive to visitors.
The provincial government and descendants of the owner are trying to keep the house protected while also publicizing it all over the country.
The house was built in 1895 and repaired in 1917.
The altar of Guan Yu.
The tiles were imported from France.
Photos from the film L'amant (The Lover) signed by director Jean-Jacques Annaud and writer Marguerite Duras.
Photo: Linh Pham