Director Lưu Trọng Ninh, 61, has created dozens of films and TV series on different themes – romance, history and war. Among them, Bến Không Chồng (Wharf of Widows) was selected to be shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001. Ninh has remade the film and turned the old story into a television serial. He tells Minh Thu about the new series.
Inner Sanctum: Did the success of the film Wharf of Widows encourage you to make the TV serial Thương Nhớ Ở Ai (Who Stole My Heart)?
The success was just a reason for me to make the story longer.
Inner Sanctum: Would you tell us about the serial?
Like the film Wharf of Widows, the serial is based on a well-known novel of the same name by author Dương Hướng, which won the Việt Nam Writers’ Association Award in 1991.
It tells the story of the rural village of Đông. This was a time when the North hurried to build up the countryside while supporting the southern battlefield. The film takes audiences back to the old days of peaceful northern villages and women waiting for their men to return from battle. The war takes the village’s healthy strong men far away, leaving behind their women waiting at the village’s wharf.
Severely injured after fighting in the battle of Điện Biên Phủ, Nguyễn Vạn longed to return to his home village. However, he struggled with stifling family customs and the hundreds-year-old village habits, rumours and public opinions. Meanwhile, the beautiful girl Hạnh – daughter of Vạn’s ex-girlfriend comes into his life and brings rare moments of happiness. It is about the people’s desire to love and to be loved.
The 34-episode drama will be aired on VTV3 from November 4.
Inner Sanctum: What makes the serial different from the film you made before?
I wrote a new script for the serial based on the novel by Dương Hướng. I created more characters to portray the image of women in the post-war period who desire happiness.
I always seek perfection. I write the screenplays for most of the films I make, including Khát Vọng Thăng Long (Thăng Long Aspiration), the film brought me the Golden Kite award in 2011 for best director.
The serial, produced by the Việt Nam Television Film Centre (VFC), is receiving the biggest investment ever.
Thanks to modern techniques, we were able to recreate the most beautiful village on screen, which has been lost due to the war and urbanisation.
We travelled to 18 villages in the north to find the context for the film. Each corner of the village, like the temple, wharf, water wells, rive fields and houses were designed to be accurate. For example, we combined a mountainous scene of Tràng An Complex in the northern province of Ninh Bình with old roofs from Thầy Pagoda on the outskirts of Hà Nội to make a beautiful scene of the rural area. Viewers won’t be able to tell the shots are from different places.
Another strong point of the serial that makes it different from all others is the traditional music. Audiences can enjoy poetic and romantic scenes of chèo (traditional operetta), folk singing, lullabies and ca trù (ceremonial singing) in which actors and actresses perform by themselves.
Inner Sanctum: You took the role of Vạn in the film version. What do you think of Lâm Vissay’s acting in the soap opera Thương Nhớ Ở Ai?
I played Vạn just because I couldn’t find a suitable actor at that time. Vạn has been my only role during my 30-year career.
Lâm is a familiar face to both cinema and television audiences, having regularly played the role of villains. This is the first time he takes the role of a hero. I didn’t share my experience in acting with Lâm. I wanted him to feel and sympathise with the character. I encouraged him to express the character in his own way.
I am satisfied with his acting. Of course the audience’s response is most important.
Inner Sanctum: You often select new faces for your works. Many of them shine in your films such as Hồ Ngọc Hà and Tăng Thanh Hà. How did you cast actors and actresses for this serial?
The serial also stars many new faces, who haven’t acted before. You may be surprised but I completely chose the cast by feeling. Sometimes when I introduce actors to the film crew, they don’t believe my choices.
Whenever I choose actors from a casting call, I often make the wrong decision.
For example, one day after starting the serial Thương Nhớ Ở Ai, I suddenly realised that the actress I chose from the auditions was not suitable. I stopped the film crew and searched for another one.
Thanh Hương is now well-known for her acting in Người Phán Xử (The Arbitrator) but when I chose her for the role of ca trù (ceremonial singing) singer Nương in this serial, I didn’t know who she was because Thương Nhớ Ở Ai was filmed before Người Phán Xử.
I just saw that she’s willing to take the role. I asked her to learn ca trù. After three months training with veteran singer Bạch Vân, Hương can sing and beat the castanets professionally. I totally felt secure when giving her the role.
Inner Sanctum: Would you tell us about your new project?
It’s time for me to complete the wishes of my father, poet Lưu Trọng Lư. Before passing away, he told me to make a film of Kiều based on the masterpiece Kiều’s Tale of Nguyễn Du.
I finished the screenplay and found an investor to give me financial support. The shooting will begin in June next year. I expect that it will be released nationwide by the end of next year. VNS