Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FOOL FOR LOVE – THE ENVELOPE BUSTER


It’s finally happening. For decades Vietnamese American actor Dustin Nguyen has been bursting at the seams with talent, cleverly avoiding stereotypic roles in Hollywood, yet like most Asian American actors, as time wanes, quality roles disappear like tidewaters that leave ocean life struggling to survive on drying sand. But like in martial arts, when the noise of knowing too much interferes with the foundation of one’s art…go back to your beginning and remember why you do it in the first place.

After being one of Hollywood’s most important rising Asian American actors, carving out a niche with drama culminating with a mind blowing performance opposite Cate Blanchard in Little Fish, Nguyen returned to a root that he never thought possible, he returned to his motherland…Vietnam.

Ever since I began writing for the SDAFF, each year Nguyen has wowed audiences at the festival with his starring roles in Vietnamese film productions. At this year’s 11th Annual SDAFF, Nguyen returns with yet another voraciously novel Vietnamese movie, Fool For Love, a film that he stars in and co-wrote with the Vincent Ngo (Hancock; 2008) and the movie’s director Charlie Nguyen.

What is so amazing about this mesmerizing romantic comedy and Nguyen’s touching and honest performance, is that about three weeks ago the film debuted in San Diego at Edwards Mira Mesa. With only a few days publicity notice and the showing times posted two days before the opening, come show time on September 24, 2010, the film was already sold out. Although I was press, I barely got into the film.

Our SDAFF fearless leader Lee Ann Kim was at hand to do a short Q&A with several of the filmmakers, Dustin and Charlie being the main focal points.

Fool For Love (De Mai Tinh), which also happens to be the most popular and highest grossing film in Vietnam this year, is an eloquently touching romantic comedy about young hotel worker Dung (Dustin; a character’s name that rings a bell) who falls in love with beautiful lounge singer Mai (Kathy Uyen; in the words of George Takei, “Oh Mai”). The snag is that Mai is the love target of wealthy real estate tycoon Antoine (Charlie) whose willingness to employ her depends on her willingness to date him.

Yet the bulls-eye becomes more complicated as in order for the penniless Dung to finance his pursuit of love, he is inadvertently forced into becoming a pseudo-boy toy to wealthy gay businessman (Thai Hoa), who is on the rebound after a demeaning breakup with his ex-man, making Dung a sheep among the wolverines. Dung and Mai’s shots of love are put to the test as they hope the love cherubs can shoot their broken arrows through the right hearts.

Having a main character being gay in a Vietnamese made film that is also shot in Vietnam is a daring move that goes way beyond the religious furor that would overshadow a similar themed film made in the United States 20 years ago. In Vietnam, it is a governmental angst that can shut you down permanently.

After Lee Ann emphasizes that Thai Hoi is not really gay she asks Dustin about …THE SCENE…she’s talking about the scene that not only pushes the envelope, but signs, seals and delivers it after the envelope has been busted and glued back together only to be set on fire.

Dustin grins a grinly grin and jokes, “Yes it was based on a real life experience (not).

”When I was writing the script, Hoi was actually my favorite character that I created. It was a big risk for Vietnamese cinema at the time. We talked extensively about really treating this character…of course we‘ve got to put the comedy in there…but we wanted to make him somebody who was human. He has the desire for love, just like we all want true love. I was hoping that the audience would embrace the character. It really exceeded my expectations with how much people loved the character.”

Charlie’s role came as a surprise and it all came down to the inside job of an insect.

“I was terrified,” blurts Charlie. “I had originally had just a small part. So after we shot two scene in the film, the actor (who was playing Antoine) went to the hospital. He contracted Dengue fever (a disease transmitted by mosquito bites), and then of course Dustin and some friends said I’ve got to do this. I said, “No!” I was so resistant for two weeks, hoping the guy would get out of the hospital…but the doctor wouldn’t let him. We didn’t have a choice.”

Dustin interjects, “Either Charlie takes the role or we’d have to shut down production.”

Lee Ann beautifully summarizes that it’s great that Asian Americans have a chance to work back in Asia then bring their films back to the States, “What we preach here at the SDAFF is that these films have Universal themes, not just for Asians or Vietnamese.”

And what about…THE SCENE?

Dustin laughingly closes, “Well, I only wanted to do it once, but Charlie had me shoot it four times.” After the audience roars with laughter he adds, “I took one for the team.”

More like four times dude.

Fool for Love will be featured at the SDAFF on Sunday, October 24, at 6:40 pm.

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