For the holidays last month, I decided to head back to the motherland, Vietnam, to rejuvenate my creative juices (writing, eating amazing food, visiting friends and family) and also, work on my friend’s horror film. Like many Asian Americans working today, many are returning to their homeland to seek opportunity. In fact, there’s a great CNBC article about this trend of Asian Americans shunning the American dream for opportunities back in Asia. I even wrote a blog about this trend when I interviewed Bay Area born Arvin Chen, who currently works in Taipei, making movies. With the burgeoning entertainment industry in Vietnam, millions of investment in major cities and a rapidly growing middle class, many Overseas Vietnamese (or Viet Kieu) are working in the entertainment and creative industries, making movies, shooting TV shows, in other fields like fashion, graphic design, advertising and even high tech.
This whole migration really kicked off almost 8 years ago when Vietnam’s first martial arts action film, THE REBEL, was produced and released to great acclaim. Written and directed by Charlie Nguyen, and starring his brother Johnny Nguyen, as well as Dustin Nguyen (21 JUMP STREET), which opened the flood gates. Fast forward to today, all the major local films are being directed by Vietnamese American directors like Victor Vu, Le Van Kiet, Charlie Nguyen, Stephane Gauger, Nghiem-Minh Nguyen-Vo, and Ham Tran, just to name a few.
In fact, Nghiem-Minh Nguyen-Vo’s latest film, NƯỚC 2030, will have its world premiere as the Opening Film of the Panorama section at the Berlin Film Festival next month. It’s, essentially, Vietnam’s first “sci-fi” film, set in the year 2030, the ocean levels have risen and the land of many farmers is now under water. Vegetables are cultivated on floating farms, a catastrophic situation from which global corporations want to profit.
One of the producers and DP for the film, Bao Minh Nguyen, who hails from New York City but is now based in Saigon, is documenting this cultural and creative migration for an upcoming web documentary series called EMPLOYED IDENTITY, where each episode is focused on one subject (a film director, an actress, a producer, fashion designer, a musician, etc). It’s funded by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and set to be released online this spring.
One of the subjects is Ham Tran, who is currently shooting his second film in Vietnam, a horror film for the local market. Titled HOLLOW, this film explores the world of shamanism and spirit possession. This is a departure from his first Vietnamese film, a romantic comedy called HOW TO FIGHT IN SIX INCH HEELS (Âm Mưu Giày Gót Nhọn), Slated for a June release, I had the great fortune to come on board as a producer on the project.
As some of you know, this is my second venture in producing a Vietnamese film. I chronicled my first time, producing the hip hop film SAIGON ELECTRIC, talking about the successes and setbacks when that film came out in 2011 (Part I can be read here, then Part II and III).
Here’s some behind-the-scenes photos:
I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and it is going to be really interesting to see how local audiences react to the film. And to be specific, when I say these are new genres (sci-fi, action, horror) for local audiences, they are new genres for Vietnamese language films. Hollywood blockbusters play in Vietnamese cinemas day-and-date, and sometimes even before the US release (for example, the last two FAST & FURIOUS movies opened a week before the US release). The goal is to contribute to a growing local industry and produce quality genre films that can compete against the next Michael Bay or Justin Lin blockbuster.
It is a tough market, and the budgets are quite small, even compared to US indie budgets, the possibilities are endless. It is still very much the wild west and working with enthusiastic artists, cast and crew who want to do good work and build a nation’s cultural industry is exhilarating. Therefore, I’ll be checking in from time to time and blogging about this new journey.
And since there is so much more to blog about my Vietnam trip, I’ll save the rest for a later blog entry, where I show all my food porn pics. You’ve been warned!