What if you had the opportunity to make your own box-office film? By envisioning a film about contemporary Vietnamese filmmakers that is directed, produced, written, and played by the filmmakers themselves, Thuy Linh comments on how increased self-awareness is needed for these filmmakers to improve in their craft.
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One day, when I have enough money, I will hire Victor Vu to write a script about Nguyen Quang Dung, who I think epitomizes the home-grown Vietnamese commercial filmmaker.
Dung is an honest, successful filmmaker who enjoys his own movies, which are trashy but simple, honest, unpretentious, and utterly without cynicism. His latest 3D flick “My nhan ke” (The Lady Assassin) has become the biggest box office hit in recent times.
“The Lady Assassin” is almost too shallow to describe. It is like a musical clip with its catchy songs, superficial story, and preoccupation with the actresses’ beauty. It is about five unfortunate, beautiful girls in times past who hold a vendetta against men. They band together on an isolated island, robbing and killing the men who come to their brothel.
My movie would be directed by Charlie Nguyen, whose directing skills seem to be wasted in silly romantic comedies. Nguyen Quang Dung will be played by his close friend and a successful commercial filmmaker with artistic ambitions, Vu Ngoc Dang.
I would invest in this project with the hope that the movie would hit several things simultaneously: local and international box offices, local and international art-houses and film festivals, and most importantly, the mindset of these and other Vietnamese filmmakers who are somehow unable to take their movies up to a new level.
As far as this last objective is concerned, my movie would challenge local filmmakers to get out of themselves to introspect and, hopefully, learn something that would enable them to make better movies.
Dung, for instance, has not been able to improve in terms of scriptwriting (the technical aspects of Vietnamese cinema, on the other hand, have been improving steadily). I do not ask for much, just a little more substance, but all he has to offer is fluff.
Because I assume that we are not usually able to look at ourselves from a proper perspective, I would ask Dung to let another filmmaker analyze him – say Victor Vu.
Why Victor Vu? Because this filmmaker, who has more talent, would also benefit by writing about another filmmaker rather than himself, the filmmaker Nguyen Quang Dung, a mediocre filmmaker despite his successes.
In Victor Vu’s latest movie “Scandal,” a horror movie about the godless world of vengeful actresses, greedy producers, and cynical filmmakers, we already have a filmmaker character. But this character and the movie itself are fake, cynical, and, thus, bad.
“Scandal” decries showbiz and commercial filmmaking, comparing it unfavorably with the world of the theater. Are theater people really more virtuous than cinema people? I wonder.
Anyway, it is as if Victor Vu is saying that like his filmmaker character he has to make trashy commercial movies because audiences want them. If so, then what does it mean for the audiences? Does it mean they are simply stupid, or that they have to watch trashy movies though they do not want to?
It would be a good mental exercise for Victor Vu to get out of himself and write about the Vietnamese filmmaker who sincerely enjoys his bad commercial movies. I would be eager to know the solutions he offers Dung.
I hope this movie would also satisfy Victor Vu’s ambition to make a movie that has both artistic and commercial values – a smart, entertaining movie without cynicism.
Making a movie about a real-life figure, a filmmaker, your colleague no less, is a subject material that deserves the most serious treatment. At the same time, Dung is a well-known figure and Victor Vu has a good sense of humor, so the script may end up being truly entertaining and drawing audiences.
Dang, who would play Dung, is another talented and artistically ambitious director. I do not have anything against him or his movies, but, on the contrary, believe he and Victor Vu are the most promising directors of the younger lot.
It bothers me that Dang often plays minor characters in Dung’s movies, seemingly just for the fun of it or for some particular joke that the duo hope audiences will enjoy. Whatever it is, I do not like this cavalier attitude towards acting. If Dang wants to try his hand at serious acting, I would offer him the role of Dung in my movie. Dang did play Dung briefly in the latter’s musical “Nhung nu hon ruc ro” (The Brilliant Kisses) but again it was more jokey than anything else.
As for the director, though Victor Vu is good in his own right, I would prefer Charlie Nguyen to direct my movie though he may turn down my offer because he prefers shooting martial arts and other action films.
At any rate, I do not want my scriptwriter and director to be the same person. This seems to be common in Vietnamese cinema now, which I think is not healthy. Directors writing their own scripts is understandable if there is a shortage of scripts. Otherwise, they should scour for scripts written by others and stick to what they do best, directing.
Vietnamese filmmakers need to re-evaluate themselves and what they are doing seriously to make good movies now.
Thuy Linh lives and works in Hanoi. She graduated from UMass Boston with a BA in English and has a Certificate in Screenwriting from the Film Studies Program, a 10-month program of the Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities (in partnership with the Ford Foundation).
She is a translator/reporter/editor for various English newspapers in Hanoi and HCMC such as VietNamNet, Saigon Times, Sai Gon Giai Phong, and Tuoi Tre. At present, she works as a translator/editor for the “fiction” section (translates and edits contemporary Vietnamese short stories) and a film critic for Thanh Nien. This article originally appeared in Thanh Nien.
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