Sunday, April 13, 2008

Vietnam's nouvelle vague


A group of local and expatriated Vietnamese have begun what some say may be a Vietnamese film renaissance.
A host of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American filmmakers are ushering in a cinematic Vietnamese New Wave, most notably the cast and crew of last year’s smash-hit Dong mau anh hung (The Rebel.)
Vietnamese-American Director Charlie Nguyen’s action-packed martial arts film The Rebel garnered blockbuster status and also won several national prizes including Vietnam’s most prestigious Golden Kite award at the Vietnam National Film Festival this year.
The film stars Johnny Tri Nguyen, the country’s hottest male star, as a Vietnamese soldier in France’s colonial army who changes sides once he meets a beautiful young revolutionary, played by singer-actress Ngo Thanh Van, who is assigned to assassinate a French official Nguyen is protecting.
Now the team has moved on to newer, bigger projects, including Lua Phat (Buddhist Fire), to be directed by Rebel co-star Dustin Nguyen, which is estimated to cost a colossal US$1 million.
Most films shot in Vietnam cost less than $400,000.
One of Hollywood’s premiere Asian-American actors, Dustin Nguyen has starred in such hit shows as 21 Jump Street, V.I.P and Seaquest DSV, and several feature films.
Nguyen also landed a much-coveted role alongside Cate Blanchett in the critically acclaimed “Little Fish” (2005), which collected 5 Australian Film Institute Awards and 3 Film Critics Awards.
He most recently starred in Justin Lin’s latest film “Finishing The Game”, which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival later this year.
According to Chanh Phuong Film Company, who is producing the film, Nguyen will be in Vietnam this month to scout locations for Buddhist Fire.
In a swap of their roles in The Rebel, this time Dustin Nguyen will play a hero while Johnny Tri Nguyen will play the villain.
Tri Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American, had a successful career as a stuntman in US films like “Spiderman” before returning to Vietnam to pursue acting.
Singer and actress Ngo Thanh Van, The Rebel’s female lead, will also star in the film.
Rebel director Charlie Nguyen will produce the film, which centers on Buddhist monks who leave their pagoda to fight in defense of their country against Chinese invaders.
More films from Vietnam’s Nouvelle Vague
14 ngay (14 days), another film produced by Chanh Phuong, is currently shooting its first scenes in Ho Chi Minh City.
The film is directed by Vietnamese-American director Nguyen Trong Khoa, who graduated from film school at the University of Southern California.
The film is about a Vietnamese expatriate who spends his two-week vacation visiting his home country which has undergone remarkable economic reforms.
His journey to discover his home country and reestablish his roots is met with obstacles that change his life.
Overseas Vietnamese lawyer and MC Trinh Hoi, son-in-law of the former Prime Minister of South Vietnam Nguyen Cao Ky, will play the lead in his first acting role.
“We want to reveal another Vietnam, a Vietnam that is not only heroic in wartime but also modern and receptive to changes in peacetime,” said Jimmy Nghiem Pham, Chanh Phuong’s managing director.
According to Pham, US cinema mogul Harvey Weinstein’s the Weinstein Company has purchased the rights to release the film overseas after it hits local cinemas this Christmas.
Other successful Vietnamese-American movie endeavors include Thoi xa vang (A Long Time Ago), directed by overseas Vietnamese Ho Quang Minh, which captured several international and national prizes, including Best Actress at the Singapore Film Festival and the Emile Guimet award at the French National Museum of Asian Arts’ 11th Asia International Film Festival in 2006.
Additionally, Mua len trau (Buffalo Boy), directed by expatriate Nguyen Vo Nghiem Minh, snatched the Golden Unicorn Grand Prix at the Amiens International Film Festival 2004 in France and the Silver Hugo Award for New Director at the 40th Chicago Film Festival 2004.
Capturing the homeland
While filming in Vietnam certainly cuts costs, most new filmmakers say that is not the reason they’ve chosen to shoot here.
Many simply want to make films about Vietnam and capture a bit of what they still consider in many ways their “home.”
However, the local movie industry is underdeveloped compared to those abroad, and equipment, funding and talent are hard to come by.
Piracy has also scared away many investors.
But with the emergence of so many highly acclaimed films, a new era could be dawning.
Symposium for a new wave
A symposium to celebrate the achievements of Vietnamese-American directors titled “Filmmaking: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly” will be held by Vietnamese Language and Culture (VNLC) and the Vietnamese-American Arts and A Cinema Symposium poster promoting Vietnamese-American filmmakers Letters Association (VAALA) at the University of California Los Angeles today.
The event will feature nine distinguished guest panelists who have contributed to the recent Vietnamese New Wave.
Three short films will be screened during the symposium, including “Break-up Therapy” by David Ngo, a documentary and, Jenni Trang Le’s Me Oi! (Oh, Mommy!).
Documentary Nhu Cau Ve Bay (Spray It, Don’t Say It) by Tuan Andrew Nguyen in collaboration with Ha Thuc Phu Nam explores the underground graffiti scene and the main characters that make up this first generation of graffiti artists in Vietnam.
Nguyen and Nam helped initiate San Art, a premier contemporary art show room in Vietnam.
The Cinema Symposium was launched in 2002 by VAALA and VNLC and is held every other year at UCLA to create a network between Vietnamese-American professionals working in the film industry and students with an interest in film and the Vietnamese culture.
The symposium is held alternately with the bi-annual Vietnamese International Film Festival (VIFF).
Admission is free and open to the public.
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