A month ago or so I wrote about the rise, plateau, dip, peak, valley and mesa of a most ardent stalwart supporter of the SDAFF and arguably the most famous Vietnamese American actor in the history of Hollywood, Dustin Nguyen.
The article discussed his namesake, escape from Vietnam, his big break in Hollywood and the life changing moment that occurred months before his marriage with actress/model Angela Rockwood, an event that stunned Hollywood and paralyzed their lives.
The sad tragedy with having so few great cinema roles for Asian American actors in Hollywood is that when one dream role comes along (even the not so good parts) all the same actors are forced to vie for it. This is never a good thing for the soul to have to “fight” against your “brother,” trying to convince a casting director you’re better than all the people you’ve known for decades and shared the difficult climb that comes with your skin color.
After being snubbed for the role of Genghis Khan in lieu of Caucasian actor Channing Tatum (my previous SDAFF article detailed that whole casting fiasco), Nguyen literally received an out-of-nowhere phone call asking him if he’d be interested in a major co-starring drama role in an Australian independent arty film portraying the love interest of the Academy Award winning actress Cate Blanchett in the what became the critically acclaimed Little Fish (2005).
Set in the Little Saigon district outside of Sydney, Tracy Heart (Blanchett) tries to escape her drug addict past but gets embroiled in a drug deal via her old flame Jonny Nguyen (Dustin). After a performance worthy of an Oscar, the film criminally still didn’t get major distribution in the United States due to it’s bleak ending being too difficult for American distributors to swallow.
One might have expected that the Blanchett feather in his acting cap should have garnered some renewed interest in Hollywood bigwigs. For a moment it did, but like many opportunities in LA-LA land, they’re fleeting and filled with the furor of a paper tiger.
Not wishing to be continually bitten (even paper can cut), Nguyen took a break from the biz and focused on some business ventures. Then just as Nguyen was contemplating on hanging up the old boots, for reasons only he knows, he decided to take a trip to a place he thought he’d never visit…his birthplace Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam.
It turned out to be a surprising moment in his career. In life, relationship and work, we are often searching for something, each opportunity filling our minds with expectations, as with time these fleeting expectations become more vapid. Often times when you’re looking for something, you never find it, what happens is that it finds you.
Nguyen, perhaps unexpectedly, fell in love with the country of his peeps and through a series of serendipitous events he met individuals in Vietnam anxious in re-building Vietnamese cinema, which for many decades was either seeped in propaganda and documentary films or war-related movies, the more notable movies being European productions. Nguyen was able to bring solid acting skills, film production savvy and know how, and a recognizable name to the table.
With his first ever film shot in Vietnam, Saigon Eclipse, inspired by the first epic poem written in Vietnamese “The Story of Kieu”, the audience reception was enthusiastic as Nguyen immediately received glorious accolades from Vietnamese filmgoers and critics. Investors quickly clamored to have Nguyen star in a second film, which turned out to be a film genre he had never been in, a genre he had for decades purposely avoided doing in the United States. Stay tuned.