Vietnamese-American director Victor Vu's Thien Menh Anh Hung (Blood Letter) movie won the Jury Prize at the second Ha Noi International Film Festival last week. This hybrid martial arts-action-fantasy is one of the most expensive Vietnamese films ever made, with a budget of VND25 billion (US$1.3 million). It is also the first film of its kind, kiem hiep (sword fighter adventures), to be produced in Viet Nam.
Victor Vu talks with Culture Vulture about the film and the prize.
How did you feel when you received the prize?
I was very happy, like the other members of the film crew. I am glad that the film has been highly appreciated by the jury. It is a great encouragement to me. Even just the fact that I could take part in the international film festival made me very happy. To have an occasion to gather with colleagues was a special experience for me.
Could you please tell us briefly about the film?
Blood Letter is inspired by the 15th century Le Chi Vien massacre. It was one of the most painful events in Vietnamese history, leading to the tragic death of national hero Nguyen Trai and other members of his family.
However, besides the basic historical facts, I also invented a lot of events in the film. It can properly be called a "fictional" film.
My film begins with the massacre, which leaves a young boy, the only survivor of the Nguyen Trai family. He is found by a monk, who raises the child and trains him in martial arts. The boy becomes an adult with great fighting skills, as well as a new name, Tran Nguyen Vu. After he is told of his family's history, Nguyen Vu sets out on a journey of revenge to clear his family name. Along the way, he meets another person seeking revenge – Hoa Xuan, a sword-wielding female martial artist. They decide to join forces and seek revenge against the royal family.
The film was released theatrically in Viet Nam in January.
How long did you spend writing the script?
I wrote the script with Hong Phuc and Doan Nhat Nam. It took five months. The work was hard. We had to make a lot of changes to the script even when we came to the studio, ready to film. This was because when we imagined the scenarios on paper, we thought they would be easy to realise. But when we began to film, it turned out to be much more difficult than we first thought.
I also had to spend time studying the history of Viet Nam, in particular the life and career of Nguyen Trai. Even though my film is fictional, it is inspired by historical fact, so I tried my best not to make it too different from history.
Finally, I am very happy that our efforts benefited the film.
Your film received acclaim from audiences, but some say that it's like a Chinese kungfu film, with lots of details that make them think of China. What do you think about that comment?
I can say with certainty that my film is totally Vietnamese. I hope that the public will be fair to my film and know to judge it only after they have watched the film.
I can affirm that the context of the film, historical characters and costumes are one hundred per cent Vietnamese.
The only thing that makes it like a Chinese film is the genre – kiem hiep. It's true that Chinese cinema has developed this genre of film for a very long time. But you should know that this genre is not only limited to China. Japan, South Korea and the US also have martial arts films. We shouldn't forget to mention Star Wars, the Hollywood science fiction film that was produced 30 years ago and featured lots of scenes of sword fighters and martial arts. — VNS