Academic journal article Hmong Studies Journal

Chao Fa Movies: The Transnational Production of Hmong American History and Identity

Academic journal article Hmong Studies Journal

Chao Fa Movies: The Transnational Production of Hmong American History and Identity

Article excerpt


Films made by and for particular social and ethnic peoples can reveal a great deal about identity issues. Here, I examine the cultural production, the content, and the socio-cultural and political significance of three Chao Fa-inspired Hmong films produced at Khek Noi, Thailand by Hmong American producers working with largely Hmong Thai actors. The first two, Chao Fa 1 and 2, were directed in 2009 by Kou Thao. The third, Vaj Tuam Thawj - The Legend of Chao Fa, was put together by Jimmy Vang, in 2010. Even though these Chao Fa films are fictional, they attempt to depict events and circumstances that are familiar to many first generation Hmong Americans, and they can muster strong emotions from people who see them as depicting factual history. In addition, just like many other American youth, many 1.5 generation Hmong are tied together by shared media experiences, including Hmong movies. Thus, the Chao Fa movies are important for producing and reproducing, reinforcing and dispersing ideas related to Hmong American identity and culture. They tell stories of the Hmong being oppressed by many different groups, and this history suggests why many Hmong-not only the Chao Fa-have long desired the type of independence and freedom from prejudice and discrimination that they imagine would come if the Hmong only had their own nation state.

Keywords: Film, movie, transnational media, Hmong, Thailand, Laos

Hmong Studies Journal, 15(1): 1-24.

Chao Fa Movies: The Transnational Production of Hmong American History and Identity


The low budget movie, Chao Fa 1, produced by ethnic Hmong people for a Hmong American audience, begins in 1975 with the mother and father of the male hero, Kongpheng Her (Koob Pheej Hawj), being killed by ruthless Lao communists who were ordered to kill all Hmong who did not agree to cooperate with the new regime. Kongpheng, who is a young man, barely escapes with his younger brother. Trying to flee to Thailand, they come across another group of Hmong in the forest with the same intention. They travel together. Soon after Lao communists attack the group, killing the mother of Pa Ying (Paj Yeeb), one of the Hmong female stars of the movie. They escape and later Kongpheng and Pa Ying gradually fall in love. Later they meet a group of Hmong Chao Fa soldiers, all with long hair, black Hmong outfits and red bandanas and belts. They ask Kongpheng if he wants revenge for what was done to his parents. They also ask if he loves his homeland, his nation. The ethno-nationalist perspective of the film, and the movement that inspired it, are undeniable. That is, the Chao Fa promoted the idea of creating a space, either an area with considerable autonomy or a nation state, dominated by the Hmong ethnic group. After some consideration, Kongpheng decides to stay in the forests and mountains of Laos and fight for the Chao Fa.

This is the way that Chao Fa 1 [spelt "Caub Fab" in Hmong RPA] Hmong resistance fighters in Laos began, directed and produced by a 1.5 generation Hmong man named Kou Thao (Kub Thoj), from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The two disk DVD production was released in 2009, and was an immediate success in the Hmong American movie market. Chao Fa 2 came out later in the same year. A third Chao Fa movie, Vaj Tuam Thawj - The Legend of Chao Fa, was produced in 2010 by another 1.5 generation Hmong American from St. Paul, Minnesota: Jimmy Vang.

These movies appealed to Hmong Americans for a few reasons, which I examine in this paper. First, the film was almost entirely set in Laos, thus appealing to nostalgic first generation Hmong Americans, the main consumers of Hmong American movies, but also 1.5 generation Hmong who, like other Americans, have been influenced by shared media experiences. Although 1.5 generation Hmong now have less interest in Hmong movies, these films were part of their upbringing, along with Indian Bollywood and Hong Kong Kung Fu movies dubbed into Hmong. …

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