In 2006, Vietnamese American film director Luu Huynh brought his audience to tears with Ao Lua Ha Dong (The White Silk Dress), a poetic drama film that won the Audience Award at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea, and Best Foreign Film Award at the Golden Rooster Awards in China. Making his first comeback since 2009's, Huyen Thoai Bat Tu (The Legend is Alive), Huynh introduces his new film Lay Chong Nguoi Ta (In the name of Love), which represented Viet Nam at the Toronto International Festival Film 2012 in the Comtemporary World Cinema category.
Inner Sanctum: You once said you accept the fact that the domestic market should have different types of films. If there are commercial films like Hello, Ms Ba*, there are also artistic films like Don't Be Afraid, Bi and In the Name of Love. Is it easy for you to see commercial films alongside artistic pictures?
I haven't changed my opinion. I just realise that's how the market works. If I wanted to, it's very likely that I could make a film like Hello, Ms Ba. But I make a different choice. Director Phan Dang Di and I like to be swimming upstream. If we are strong enough, we will survive, if not, we die half-way. It is a game that players like us accept but the market is different. If you run a business, an investment should come back with profit.
Also, there are always film directors who work under the requirements of film producers, and there are film-makers who use their own cinematic language and make films as they want. As far as I am concerned, in the US there are no more than 20 film-makers who would not accept even a single scene in their films to be cut out. In Vietnam, if you work with film-producers like Sang for example, you would work as a director - your film should not be longer than 90 minutes, and it should be as he requires. I don't want to be that director.
Inner Sanctum: But there are few people like Phuoc Sang who really pamper you. Many of your films are made with his money.
It's because Sang wants his film studio to have both "instant noodle" and "noodle soup". Sang often makes "instant noodle" while I make "noodle soup". I don't hate making "noodle" films which are profitable. But if I do I would still add some beef and chicken to make them more delicious.
Inner Sanctum: Which film is more costly, your new film, In the name of Love or the old one, The White Silk Dress?
We spent VND8 billion to make In the name of Love and VND25 billion for "The white silk dress". The most expensive part is the sound. I first make sound in Vietnam and then redo it in Thailand, which costs me thousands of dollars more. For me, a film could be only black and white, but its sound should be perfect. A film can have two colours but sounds have different layers which you can't simplify.
Inner Sanctum: Previously I have heard that you are working on three or four projects. But now I just see one. Where are the others?
It only took me 11 days to complete the "In the name of Love" script, the fastest I have ever written. The film's budget is only VND8billion and usually a Sang film costs VND4-5billion. Seemingly, sounds and images are not important in a film today, but what matters most is a team of comedians who would act well enough to create a hot pot mix in 90 minutes, that's all, and that's why I still nurture other projects until I have enough investment to make them properly.
Inner Sanctum: In other best-selling comedies, Huy Khanh and Thai Hoa often act well in comedic roles, why did you choose them to play opposite roles?
I like challenges. I am confident that I can mould any actor into a certain shape providing they are willing to be challenged by me. In fact, it's more interesting selecting comedians to play the main roles in a drama, because if you choose a popular comedian for a comedy, your audiences just look at their faces and already know their roles. What would be the surprise then?
If you are patient enough, you can reshape even a stone, not to mention a human being. The most important element is having patience and I like to be challenged as I have just said. The role I gave to Dinh Y Nhung is a challenge to both her and I. But I told her from the beginning that once we were at the film studio there should be no family connection between us, otherwise the film would be ruined. Nhung really liked the film so she accepted every scene I wrote. Sadly, she hid from me that she was pregnant and after we finished a scene she miscarried.
Inner Sanctum: It seems that this is the first time you've worried about the turnover of your film. Why?
Because this is the first project I've worked with V-film Studio, and it is not only an artistic film, I have also thought a lot about the audiences' reaction when I made it. I saved money for V-film Studio by working different positions: script-writer cum film director cum director of pictures cum co-producer.
If the film earns well, I could have a sum to invest in the upcoming project, A Scarred Heart, inspired by the true story of a little girl named Binh mistreated by her employer, a noodle soup seller. Frankly, apart from making films which I only do from time to time, I still have to work as a director of V-film Studio's game shows to earn my living. — VNS
*Hello, Ms Ba* is a ‘commercial' film made by Phuoc Sang film studio.