Founded in Saigon in the 1980s, Song Lang is a raw underground black with a soft and romantic heart. The film is based on an incredible connection that develops between Hanki, the thoughtful shit (Lien Binh Phat), a tough debtor for an unscrupulous usurer, and Lin Fung (Isaac’s V-Pop star), a charismatic young opera singer for a fighting troop performing Kai Luong, a modern form of traditional Vietnamese folk opera.
They meet each other when Dung comes to collect the debts of the opera ensemble by force, but when their paths cross again, the friendship develops and arouses astonishing and tender feelings in both men. With his first feature film, director Leon Le has created a rich drama: a brooding relationship between two clear opposites – without compromises – against the backdrop of a declining art form.
SONG LANG, which will be distributed this month on DVD and digitally, is the work of the very talented Leon Le.
How are you going to the movies, Leon? Or should I paraphrase like you?
I made some short films for Song Lang, just for fun. And although they have been very successful at film festivals and won several awards, I never thought I would make a feature film. In 2007 I returned to Vietnam with a production plan cải (traditional Vietnamese opera) to realize my childhood passion. But I soon realized that this was an unrealistic goal. Cải lương was an endangered art form. And even if I were willing to accept financial losses, it would not be easy to achieve my artistic goal. That’s when I decided to make a film project out of it. I thought that with the same effort and investment, it would be on screen forever and reach a global audience.
Is there a story you usually refer to?
I am attracted to the dramatic genre, especially those dealing with relationships. Even if my last two short films and Song Lang had LGBT themes, I won’t stop there. I also want to create more opportunities to share Asian stories, especially about Vietnam. We’re still clearly under-represented in the film industry, and I’d like to do my bit to change that. My two upcoming projects are always Vietnamese stories.
Is it fair to say that SONG LANG is your most epic film on a production scale?
That’s right. It’s my first feature film. Previously, I only made short films with very tight budgets, either on my own or with public money. It’s so nice not having to do everything on your own anymore. On a big day there will be about 500 people on the set, including extra people. And I couldn’t stop thinking about myself: Oh, my God! They’re all here to support my dream. It would be awful if I couldn’t give birth and I let her down!
How long did it take to get together – was it quite a challenge to organize and get together?
For almost a year I sent Song Lang’s script to all the major studios in Vietnam, but they all refused to respond, no one wanted to see the film. In Vietnam, the current film market, no one is interested in the question whether it is a comedy, a horror or a remake. Studio68 producer Ngo Thanh Van is the last person I contacted. And I was totally shocked when she agreed to produce the film, just two days after reading the script.
It is a film that fits perfectly together in style and content. But how hard was it to balance that relationship?
Thank you very much. To be honest, I didn’t think much about style during the shooting. I was just trying to find the most effective way to tell the story I want to tell and how to make the audience believe as much as possible in this world. Decorations, costumes, hairstyle and make-up; all these elements serve the plot, not the other way around. In the short term: At the request of the fans we are going to publish a limited edition in English, the hardcover photo album Song Lang : Behind the curtain in November. Fans can visit www.songlangbook.com for more information.