Lê Hồng Lâm, nhà nghiên cứu điện ảnh: Nghệ thuật và thương mại phải song hành | Have A Sip EP26
Welcome everyone to Have A Sip. This is a show with one simple format. That’s why I was able to invite many special guests here Sometimes, extraordinary individuals prefer simpler formats, like just chatting. I’d invite someone over for coffee and to discuss about literatures, or could be books, and a lot more.
Today, our guest is an author. His name is Le Hong Lam. Welcome to our show, Have A Sip. Hello Thuy Minh and listeners of Have A Sip. When you arrive, you had two choices Either a cold brew or a latte.
So for you, do you consider yourself a journalist or a critic? I’d say a journalist Journalist I was trained to be a journalist, to be more exact. I wrote newspapers for 20 years, so my journalists aspect is stronger. I wrote film critiques and other things too. But at the core, I’m still a journalist. That title fits with me most. Yes So, for your information, so you’d know more about his works than just film critique articles.
Le Hong Lam is someone who has been in the industry way earlier than me. From Sinh Vien Viet Nam news company to The Thao Van Hoa Dan Ong magazine. He’s the creator of magazines that, due to the digital shift, people have forgotten about printed magazines that was so successful back then. Lifestyle magazine It’s only been 5 years. For me, when there’s a shift from traditional magazines to digitals I’d sometimes contemplate about it. It’s only been 5 years, how could it be- Change so fast? It takes everything else along with it.
But your writings, when you write more on digital platforms, do you think that you’re now very different from when you were still doing printed newspaper? I think so, but actually, my mindset is still the mindset of a journalist doing printed news. I’ll make it super long, and very detailed. Like Vietcetera’s articles for instance. You’d have 2500 words, I’d go all the way to 3400. I couldn’t stop. But for a topic like film reviews, for example, a detailed review, or series like Road To Oscars, or DVD, a series that writes about classic films.
If its only 2500 words then it’s not enough. It’s really hard to express it all. Of course, I can still do it. For some categories, the limit is 2500 words.
Like Tuoi tre cuoi tuan, that I used to write. I’d put myself within that limit, but it doesn’t satisfy me. It doesn’t feel good A lot of my readers said my writings are so liberating on Facebook but so dreary on the papers. It’s because of that boundary. So when I switch to a digital platform, I was able to satisfy the need of writing liberally So you can say, my style is a mixture of printed articles where there has to have a clear message with digital articles with a more unrestricted manner, in the era of social media. If you were to combine those two, that would be my current style.
So, your readers are also aware right? Because I also have to- Actually when Lam writes for DVD series, as a content director, I also have to read through. Actually I didn’t have to go through too much but I know it was written by you, and you are much more experienced than me. But when you post on Facebook, it’s like this, I just observe. Goes to show that there’s an exception for digital users right? I’m not that surprised. And I’ll use myself as a lab rat.
Nowadays, they’d say on social medias or digital papers, people prefer it short like 540 to 740 words or videos need to be within a certain length, or else they move onto the next. But I have more readers on longer articles. I don’t understand why. Maybe it’s because it’s more informative, or my style, though its long but captivating maybe? So the longer the post, the more clicks I get. I don’t know why either.
But then I’m also influenced by Western magazines too. When I was still writing magazines, I used to read a lot of it. Like CQ, Vanity Fair,… Articles that are like 5000, 10000 words.
Articles that portrays personalities, it was very detailed. But it feels so good to read. And that had an impact on my style as well. Whenever I write about people, I tend to go very deep.
I learned it from Doan Cong Le Huynh He gave me a lesson. When I was still in university, I was a bit awkward. I’d publish whatever I write. So Huynh so he made me postponed it He was triggered by it. Back then I just write and publish. I was already writing for multiple papers in Saigon during my 3rd year.
Saigon News was for earning a wage. Full time at Sinh Vien paper but made a living through Tuoi Tre, or Saigon Giai Phong papers. One Saigon paper can sell 5 times better than Sinh Vien paper. I have no choice but to “cheat” So, back then I was used to that writing style- What was I’m trying to say? It’s a bit too long isn’t it? It’s about everyone- But hey, is it because on social medias, people tend to not invest too much into one kind of content? Yea, maybe? Sometimes, contents are to surfaced and leave no impression Or sometimes they try too hard perfecting it, until they’re exhausted with too much informations and they don’t have anything for themselves. So sometimes, it needs to be something with depth or share some valuable knowledges, or an in-depth analysis about a topic. It’s more similar to my way.
Also, I think during this digital era, they tend to save it. Like, it’s short, like a teaser. And there’s an after credit. And they keep repeating the same method.
Actually, when I write articles, I also have to think about that. The recycling, reusing contents. But writing a long article, it’s like you’re giving it your all. Sometimes, you’ll miss out on that. Let’s get back to the lesson from Huynh. He taught me something that sI've applied and succeeded when I portrays an individual then the next person have nothing else to write about.
Sounds kind of bold right? Maybe a little extreme or too aggressive. But he’s right. So when I interview others There are people who has had a successful career and very influential, like miss Kieu Trinh. When I was working on “Nguoi tinh khong chan dung” project I traveled to America to interview her, she was very conscious.
The people over there, and a Vietnamese journalist. I was declined a couple times. They said they don’t want to give answers to journalists who are from Communist countries like Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, China,… Because they’re a known Saigon film studio before 1975, they had a lot documents, and they’re planning to recover films before 1975. I wrote a lot of emails, try to get connections, but got declined.
That was their policy, so I had no choice. But when I interview miss Kieu Trinh, she was very careful at first but then after that, she might have heard about me, maybe she had read my articles, or heard others introducing me so she agreed. But when it comes to the interview, she let go of her fears. The interview last from 9AM to 4PM.
Just chatting and enjoying coffee like this. The whole time. Then she’d recalled a lot of memories. She can redo a 5 minutes long monologue from a movie that made 50 years ago. You can see how big their passion is.
After that interview, she wanted to set up another one. And it would take place at a cafe. That interview lasted for another 3 hours. Until now, whoever she meets she would hold them back longer so she could share more So when we pry the right way, then those conversations would be so interesting.
And you’d have a lot of materials. After I wrote about her in my book, then I started another project here in Vietnam. The first one is a collection. The second one is a phase and for the third one I picked two personalities from the South and North. "Nam Kieu Trinh, Bac Tra Giang" Yes, I’ve heard about this project.
But the point about exploring about that individual to the point where others have nothing to explore anymore I really find that interesting. But problems about “others” is a for the future, rather than our curiosity about that individual. So now, when recalling- Because you have interviewed so many Other than you, I don’t think anyone has done it as much as you Actually I don’t do interviews a lot but I’m very picky about the subject.
Like, for films, I don’t interview a lot of them. I interviewed Tran Anh Hung very early on. It was a marvelous interview. It was 2003. Tran Anh Hung was very egotistical. After 3 amazing movies, made a name for Vietnamese film on an international scale.
He came back to Vietnam thanks to an invitation from the French Cultural Center to teach young filmmakers in Ha Noi. Phan Dang Di also attended that course. I sneaked in and was able to meet him. and asked him for an interview at a cafe.
And that article- Even though he was cocky at the time but towards a fresh out of college journalist who are still all over the place, and getting all psyched when meeting their idol, he challenges me after every questions I gave. but then after that, He could see the energy of someone who understands his works, and is able to give some input, then he starts to open up. And so I had that article. It’s something that I’m still proud of. And then for newer people, I don’t do interview much but I’d write more.
I’d focus on analysis, analyze a problem or covering a story more than doing interviews. Because I’m picky when choosing an individual. So when you look back Of course, these questions are a bit- I think with a huge fortune of articles, I think you don’t even count them, right? But is there an article, or a topic that takes a lot of effort? Usually the ones that takes efforts are the ones that involves individuals that I admire. So the preparations before going into that interview took a huge chunk of time. Like I’d really look into their works and read a lot of documents about them.
Both international and domestic documents. So when it comes to the interview, I don't mind spending more time Usually, those are the ones that a bit longer than usual. For now, it’s about 30 minutes to an hour. Now it would as long as a press conference. They’d all ask the same questions, and write the same articles.
But for me, I’ll always be more exclusive. I’ll never go to a press conference. Because it doesn’t leave anything valuable and you cannot approach them either. You can’t see their truest, most artistic self. That’s why I’d prefer private interviews. If possible. If not then, I’ll wait for another time.
For individuals that you’re passionate about, you’d want to spend a lot of efforts. Or when it comes to articles about classic films. I’d have to watch that movie over and over Not just watch it but also read about the author. How many movies they’ve made? What is their style? And within that specific work then what makes it a classic? What makes it timeless? Sometimes, it takes that much effort.
Obviously, I wrote those because it’s my job rather than any other things. The feeling of satisfying your love for the films that I love. It’s true that for the DVD series, when I work on that series for Vietcetera, I thought a lot about collections I thought about, even myself- Even thought I’m the eldest here at Vietcetera but I haven’t seen those movies either and I feel embarrassed. I’m being honest. But then I’d still hope that someday, it could reach someone, that is searching about that film.
It’s already there. What do you think about- Obviously, after this book, do you consider collecting as one of your mission? It seems like so because I’m very much aware of it. It started off as passion.
Like when I was in Ha Noi. I think I spent half of my monthly salary on DVDs. It’s probably pirated films. Now I can go over there to get the original records but I couldn’t back then. I collected them.
Whenever I finished work I’d ride my motorbikes around the lakes I was there during that time too Let me share a bit about our background Back then in Ha Noi, in spots like Bao Khanh or some places in Ta Hien, they’d sell pirated DVDs from China and it doesn’t even have English subtitles. They’re all in Chinese and it’s all over the screen. But it has really cool packagings. It’s how it started. When I talk to Lam, I feel like a child.
When I was a kid, I didn’t get to watch a lot of TV. My dad would tell me no more TV after 7PM. So I couldn’t get along when people talk about movies that I don’t get to watch. Later on, once I started working at Hoa Hoc Tro newspaper.
I feel like it’s the culture there or something, when everyone would buy DVDs. Back then I didn’t have a DVD player, so I’d buy in advance, and wait until I have one. And it’s really true that back then, it was only pirated DVDs from China. Yes, it’s mainly imported from China. They imported quite a lot actually.
Famous Hollywood films and, European art films was imported as well. I had a really big collection. I would buy them almost everyday.
And I used to have a pen name, which was Bao Khanh. I’d spend the money I made on movie discs Bao Khanh would only write to get money for discs. So it started from there. And now, I have a huge collection. One third of my bookshelf right now is just discs.
Book are a lot thicker, but it’s one third so it’s a lot more. It takes up a whole wall. Discs don’t have that much use anymore. Now there’s only value in collection. It’s like a little museum, sounds like the name of my book. Oh I love that book.
Like that, it’s my youth. Back when my passion is still a bit, impulsive Or I didn’t think it, I just love it. So if keeping records is a mission that you think stems from yourself, I can also see that your writings or your interviews is also very personal but to when it comes to collecting I know that project of British Council I’ll just say it okay I think the elders are busy collecting while the youngsters watch Netflix, or blockbusters at the cinemas. Of course, there will be a small portion who likes to look for and understand cultures.
Have you the connection between collecting and- Let’s say the best movies of Vietnam. I know that you collect the later ones as well. Is that a way to connect? Connect to what, I may ask? Like, do you think it’s important to pass it on? Why yes, of course. Let’s say, young people now, those who are born in the 2000s, they don’t know what the film industry is like before. Like before 1975 to 1990s, they definitely wouldn’t know. And they have a lot of false opinion and prejudices.
As someone who was passed on these things, of course I’d want to do the same, in hopes of getting rid of those prejudices. Our cultures may not be big. Film or literature may not be know globally. But there are also gems that needs to be reserved.
When you look at history, you have to look at culture. So it’s true that this starts from myself. I value my individuality a lot.
I just do it. I don’t think much about any connection or passing it on. I just do what I love. I just care about what I’m passionate about. I just do it. I think this is the job of the cinema department.
Recently, I met a Viet Kieu. She also love things like this. And she asked when will I finish Nam Kieu Trinh, Bac Tra Giang? That I should hurry up or they’ll run out of time. Why do I have to do it? Of course, I don’t give myself a mission. It’s not my responsibilities. I just do it out of love.
I took it from the bottom of my heart but I don’t feel the burden of rushing it, for any reason. It just to satisfy myself. And she just said, yea, this is supposed to be done by the Department.
Film legacies or culture legacies, needs to be reserve by them. But when they do, no one cares. Yes, I agree. But that the problem with collecting. People would see it as a book, going on a shelf of a library, at the National University.
And you’d only learn about it when you are assigned to it. Actually, researching is also very interesting. Recently, I’m working on a workshop about genders. Gender roles in Vietnamese cinema.
And I read a research about gender, not just in cinema, but in general. It was very detailed. And you can see the effort put into it.
But that’s not my job. I can appreciate their hard work but it’s too heavy in data and principles. I’m someone who’d always break the rules, so I prefer something for liberal and personal.
So I know it’s not for me. But it’s very interesting, and needed for my work. Sometimes, we need records too, not just personal ideas. We need to based it on recorded facts.
And while working on Nguoi tinh khong chan dung, I had to do a lot of research of newspapers before 1975. I found out a lot of interesting aspects of newspaper at that time. And you need to read to know? Of course. First, it’s the lifestyle, the language that they used in writing or in films.
Why is it that there used to be a genre called Du Dang, about gangster females. It has to be based on society at the time. So that there are such genre as Du Dang, to be taken as inspirations for later movies.
Like “Vet thu tren lung ngua hoang” The songs of that films is too famous. And it used to be pop culture in Saigon as well. But then, I know your “Nguoi tinh khong chan dung” project it’s about that era right? Before 75. Do you want to move onto newer eras? During my time, those who are my age would know about, Lich Ly Hung and Diem Huong. Which was “instant noodle” kind of films. But I remember having an opportunity to interviewed Ly Hung, and visited him at his house.
At that time, our movies were well known. We even collaborated with Hong Kong productions. Like we’d exchange actors. I don’t know how many of you out there know, even I don’t know about this. I didn’t even read about it.
I just heard it from the people in the industry. Ly Hung revealed that, Hong Kong actors would work here and we’d work over there. In Hong Kong, yes. It was continued from movies made before 75. Before 75, we’d collaborate with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Phillipines, even Hollywood.
Miss Kieu Trinh was casted in a lot of Hollywood films And a lot of A list Hollywood celebrities came to Saigon and Phillipines to work with miss Kieu Trinh. She’s the main girl and they’re the main guy During late 72 to 75, there were a lot of films that collaborated with Hong Kong and Taiwan. That was the time that I think Vietnam was, I tend to use the word “overrun” There was a time when it grows really fast. Especially in entertainment and commercial.
Which was before 75. And during the 90s, for 10 years. During those two eras, Vietnam have had the chance to thrive in entertainment. We had an audience, we had diversity in genres, we had celebrities that has big influence. Film Festivals in Ha Noi, Hai Phong has had incident where people would grab Ly Hung, Diem Huong, or Viet Trinh. Like they were that obsessed.
They’d go home with bruises on them. That was the time when, we reached a new high, to become a strong industry. But the weakness of Vietnamese cinema, I’d say the talent is not big enough. The technicality is still too weak. And soon enough, they’re stuck within the same things. They can’t get out.
Meaningless motifs, Sloppy approach. At the time, there was Le Cong Tuan Anh. You probably knew him.
He was very big at the time. He did 12 movies all in 1 year. 12 movies in 1 year. I think, the investment for a character, it won’t be as good. He ran from one set to another One film in the morning, one in the afternoon and another in the evening.
And that exhaustion had made an industry, that just started to have an audience, to turn their backs on it. Both of those eras has ended. Before 75 era might have been because of history and politics. But the 90s era, the commercial films. What has killed it was the quality. Quality was too bad.
That was the two crisis of Vietnamese cinema. For current time, I think that one thing in common that it has with 2 previous eras is that there is an audience, a market and talents. But quality is also the problem. I feel like right now, there’s a few filmmakers maybe they were trained overseas, so they’re better.
And so I hope there will be better works, as well as technicalities. I think the technicalities are getting better. If we were to compare a Vietnamese film to other asian films. In terms of technicality, then I think it’s pretty good. Nothing to worry about. It just lacks the quality.
How to write a good film that touches the hearts of our audience. How to write films that breaks the rules. Explores the deeper layers.
Characters need to have depths. There has to be a series of surprises. Then you’ll win over the audience.
Nguyen Minh Son, he didn’t do much films but he once said something really interesting. He said when working on Vietnamese films, they only explores the surface level. So only a few minutes in and you can predict the ending.
As soon as character A say something, you know what B is going to do. They never go into the second, third, forth, fifth layers below. That is something that Korean cinema is doing very well. They’ve continued to break the rules Explore deeper layers.
Films of Bong Joon Ho, Kim Ki Duk or Park Chan Wook We’re all astonished of their works. Like we’re amazed by it. Even after it has finished, we’d still sit there to think.
How are they able to do it like that? But I haven’t seen it in Vietnamese films. That explains why Korean cinema is so strong, it’s as big as Hollywood now. It’s even better than Europe. I think that the biggest problem of Vietnamese cinema is Before, when I interview others, they’d usually say that there isn’t enough theaters. Which means even if we tried our best, and produce the hottest blockbuster, but if there isn't enough theaters then we will never be able to have that kind of achievement.
Even you took the example of 12 million people going to the cinema. But now, every city has cinemas, and shows keeps coming in. Revenue of “Bo Gia” is now almost 300 billion. Like really big numbers. But the thing that lacks here is the script.
For others like production, technicalities, theaters, talents,… Everything else is getting better. But the script is still the same. Either too simple or too shallow. They’ve invested a lot, but they’d missed out on small things. For Vietnamese films, especially commercial ones. People don’t expect much just yet.
They still haven’t ask for a deeper layer. But to satisfy their- Firstly is the logic of character development. Like it wouldn’t leave you confused., going “what just happened?” or naive things like- Sometimes when I watch Vietnamese films, I feel like directors or filmmakers, they laid out a bunch of kids toys and play with it, like it’s way too childish. It lacks basic logic, or its not enough in character’s psychology.
And the audiences experience is taken away. Either that, or films that brings little to no emotions. I call it flat, its just one line. It doesn’t move at all. Those are definite flops. And now, I just need to go to the premiere to predict the fate of this movie.
I can guarantee that. Don’t need to study the audience anymore. I just need to look. Like when I watch two of the Christmas movie this year. “Nguoi can quen phai nho” Charlie is a well known name in the industry.
He also produced this movie. He had made a lot successful movie in the past. But when I watched the first screening, I thought “Oh no, this is a flop” And it did flop.
And I didn’t even know of it’s existence. It flopped because, even though, on the outside, there are investment, like lots of money were put into it. It has a huge cast and crew.
They had award winning screenwriters from Hollywood But watching it, I can see one thing clearly, which was a Viet Kieu’s disease. They grew up with Western culture. So when they move back to Vietnam, their films lacks the understanding of culture. And without that, they couldn’t reach Vietnamese audience They didn’t grew up here.
Charlie in his early career had the same problem. The style is very foreign. Takes a while for them to get through it. So when a person who was raised in a Western world, for example, “Hoa vang tren co xanh”, you can immediately see- I just wrote this one line, which was it looks like “a basket of countryside goods sitting in a resort” Like when resorts has to prepare pretty fruit baskets.
It looks pretty and nostalgic, it has things like Banh Duc or something like that. But it was a set up. It’s something that was set in a resort but not in real life. That's why when I watched that movie, I knew it would fail. And not only did it fail, it failed miserably.
I shouldn't laugh but... Think of it as a lesson in film-making. Let's talk about a frequently discussed topic, "Vietnamese movies". Do you think that, since you mentioned it, that Vietnam audiences' preference is worse than that of international audiences? Absolutely. I have to be honest here. I often refer to people's movie preference as their "movie standard".
Films and art in general are a process. They require training. Self- training. Personally, I was more self-trained than trained by others. I didn't go to school to study about cinema. That's a weakness, but also a strength of mine. I'm not caught up in the cliches, the theoretical frameworks of film schools.
I watch films on my own. I've watched so many films. I've gone through mountains of them. I read a lot as well.
After I finish a film, I always read articles from international critics, books by international critics about that film, explaining why that film is a masterpiece, what that film was able to offer, what was so extraordinary about its cinematic language. That's how I trained myself. When I go abroad, to the States, to Europe, commercial films are never my choice. Plenty of those in Vietnam already.
I usually frequent arthouse theaters, old and ugly-looking ones. One time, I was in New York during a blizzard, so I watched four films in a single day. It was -6 degree outside, and the snow was this thick.
I couldn't go anywhere else, so into the theater I went. I watched four films. Most of the people there were in their 70s and 80s.
I was an outlier for sure. It was pretty fun. They were watching Asian and European arthouse films. Why were 70, 80 year-olds going to the theater to watch these films? Their love for cinema persisted throughout their 20s,30s, and 40s. That's why arthouse films can live on in Europe and the States. The audiences there started watching films from a young age and their love for cinema snowballs.
It allows them to enjoy artworks and films, and lead them into art museums. It's almost like a mission. A passion.
We lack all of that in Vietnam. We're casual about our film-watching. For one thing, it was hard back then for people to watch Western art films, see if they were good or bad.
Now that it's become easier, they choose to watch nonsense. They waste time on YouTube and TikTok, or shows meant to increase TV ratings. Meanwhile, very few people spend time on enjoying art works, a good film perhaps. There are some, but few that do.
Our audiences' taste and standard are much lower than Western counterparts. They don't know about cinematic language. What is cinematic language? It's simple. It's the composition of a scene. The movements of the camera. The angle of a shot.
The utilization of sound. The usage of colors. Stuff like that. If you know these things, you can have a deeper understanding of a movie. You get the director's intention, their individual's style.
Cinema is diverse, of course. You can't generalize the entirety of cinema based on one film. Each director has their own style. Each genre has its own criteria. The more films I watch, the more I break away from the cliches, the biases.
That's why we need diversity in cinema, why we need diversity in art. When I see positive signs in a Vietnamese film, I go out of my way to support it, to support others like it. Are you talking about Bố Già? I am.
Let's talk about cinematic language. Actually, I never watch movies for free. I'd rather pay so that I'd have an excuse to criticize the movie cause I bought the ticket.
Bố Già was evidently a huge success. I think it's a positive sign from the movie industry. After so many flops, finally a movie pulled it off. It's a consolation for film-makers.
But as for the cinematic language, I think this movie hasn't clearly shown it yet. Even though Tran Thanh has been in the industry for years, and Vu Ngoc Dang has made cinematic films before, I thought it was a jumble of sitcom and drama... I get it. I can see quite clearly a few things in this movie, especially the acting, the comedic elements of the cast. Most of them are comedians so.
They mostly worked with sitcoms and comedy sketches. Sometimes, I feel they're a bit too absurd to watch. I have never regarded Tran Thanh highly for his cinematic works either. Some people took issue with my recent interview. They said that I used to criticize Tran Thanh and Truong Giang for their theater style-acting, and now I'm praising Bố Già.
I say, well why not? The more arguments and opinions a movie attracts, the better it is. That's how you start dialogues. I support this movie even though it still has issues, cause these issues can be resolved. There can be improvements.
These are simple matters. They have to do with cinematic techniques and mindsets. The merit of this movie is something I haven't seen in other Vietnamese movies.
That is, it uses materials from the Vietnamese modern life. Familial relationships and characterization are fully developed. It makes you feel sympathetic. As for the limitations, they can be improved. They are intentional with their cinematic language, like the one-shots, like the one in the beginning. they put thoughts into it.
What stands out about this movie is its script. The emotional climaxes are well executed by the cast too. That's why I support the movie. It doesn't matter to me whether I get invited to the premiere or not.
There were movies that I straight up slammed. Take Mỹ Nhân Kế for example. It had a star-studded cast. The director Quang Dung had made many successful Tet movies. I blasted it for being a "resort" movie.
Then we have Ngo Thanh Van's Cô Ba Sài Gòn. I thought it was really fake. It drew nothing from our culture at all. It felt "synthetic".
My article came out before the movie even hit theaters. This sometimes upsets distributors and publicists who invited me. I stand firmly by my opinion. When I write movie reviews, I don't get influenced by the directors, actors, or publicists. My opinions are personal. Sometimes they're too extreme or passionate, but they're my personal opinions, that's all.
That's a great thing. That's what makes you special and unique. People say that "You can't buy Le Hong Lam". Is that true? For sure. Hmm how to say....
I thought that what money can't buy, a lot of money can. No I have a clear stance on this. I can make a living through different means. I write a lot of articles and work on a lot projects. I'm a KOL for many brands. These are things I can sell for the right price.
The only thing I would never sell is my movie review, epsecially Vietnamese movies. I receive a lot offers for my movie reviews. They even respect my authority.
I can write whatever I want as long as I mention their movies, as long as I watch their movies. But no, once you get paid to do something, you can't stay neutral about it anymore. You will surely go easy on them.
Even if it's up to you, you can't really blast the movie, you can't be as direct anymore. I won't compromise my stance. When I wrote a review of Binh Bong Bot's translation, I even joked that... It's kind of a crude joke.
Edit it out! "Don't whore all of yourself out". Something like that. You can make a living through different means, but your religion, the thing that you strongly believe in, the thing that you are known for, you should preserve that. So I preserve my reviews. That's what I think. I really appreciate that.
You did say that you can be extreme right? You also said that you can be sassy. You wrote for Vietcetera an article about the movie Cậu Vàng. You got furious then calmed down and then furious again. That article got mixed reviews. I like that you're so assured in what you do.
But have you ever decided to curb your "extremism"? A time when you really wanted criticize something, but for some reasons didn't? There were a few times. When it comes to my relationships, for example, I'd give it some thoughts. When I criticized Cậu Vàng many people were trashing me.
I didn't read them of course. Some of them were personal insults, but I didn't let them get into my head. Acquaintances were texting me "People are trashing you" but I was like "let them be". That's the nature of the job. Then, I heard feedbacks saying that I wasn't being objective.
I wasn't criticizing my friends' films. But that's also my professional stance. For one thing, I work independently. I'm not signed to and I don't work for anyone.
If I like it I praise it. If it's bad and I dislike it, I criticize it. If it's not that bad, or that praise-worthy, I keep quiet. I have no needs to write about films that provoke nothing from me at all.
For example, Người Cần Quên Phải Nhớ, I just completely forgot about it. I don't need to remember it. I don't need to talk about it. Kind of like that. I think critics are part of the the trinity in cinema. I regret that even though I started out as a music journalist, I lost my root in Vietnamese music.
Speaking of this trinity, it's the producer, the audiences, and the indispensable critics. The evaluators that aren't part of the audiences. In the Vietnamese music industry, all the critics have either sided with the audiences, or sided with the artists, or even promoted the artists. The balance is gone. At least Vietnamese cinema still has that.
Is there anyone else beside you? Yes, I think I have some predecessors. I can't mention them here but there are a few, especially the young ones, like Lucas Luan Nguyen who's also working for Vietcetera. I think he has potential. He got proper training. He studied arts in Australia.
He loves films. The films that he likes are mostly films tailored for the young generation. We're complete opposites. I like to dig up the past.
In film criticism classes, I always talk about the New Wave classics, the realism of the 50s and 60s, Russian films, and vintage Vietnamese films. Whereas Lucas doesn't mention pre-90s movies at all. He probably aims for a different audience. I think he's invested and educated. -At least we have someone to continue your legacy. -I did find some sites on the Internet.
I know some sites but I don't follow them so I don't want to give any comments. I have to bring something up. This week, we published a big piece that you wrote on Hong Kong films. What would you say about Hong Kong films to people who have never watched them? I'd tell them about its golden age in the 90s, I guess. The golden age gave us headliners, movies, stars, and its specific genres.
Once you immerse yourself in it, you can't get out. The title of the article, "Every memory is a teardrop", sounds a bit cheesy but it's true. The movies remind you of your youth. From what I've seen, to Vietnamese, Hong Kong films have two main features. One is mobsters. I don't know if this relates to what you said about mobsters in the 1975.
Hong Kong itself is a port so... I'm from Hai Phong so I know well how these things take place. Port cities are where commerces take place. so there's a lot of disputes and mob activities.
Naturally, the mob and police film genre dominates Hong Kong. When I grow up, these films still pump me up. What I'm obsessed with later on though is Wong Kar Wai's works and his style.
Why do you think there is this contrast? It reflects the city's diversity. Hong Kong is a robust city. It was a British colony that held on to its Chinese values. Hong Kong is mostly populated by Chinese right. Yet, it was a British colony. It's a mixture of old and new.
It's highly developed commercial hub. Alll of that creates a unique cinematic identity for Hong Kong. Mobster movies are a specialty of Hong Kong. We have John Woo Yu-Sen's films such as.... Infernal Affairs? No that wasn't til later on.
John Woo Yu-sen was first generation. First generation films were Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow. It was the golden age of Chow Yun-fat and Leslie Cheung. Ti Lung too. It was the golden age. Later on we welcomed more names.
Such as director Derek Yee Tung-sing, Tsui Hark. We didn't get Lau Wai-Keung and Mak Siu-fai's A better Tomorrow til much later on. That was around 2002.
But the golden age was the 80s and 90s. Hong Kong became the world third biggest film industry, just after Hollywood and Bollywood. They made quality movies.
Artists that arose then are still prominent now. They even have an influence on Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino and others are admirers of vintage Hong Kong films. He took reference from John Woo Yu-Sen's films to make his own mobster films.
Tarantino started out in a movie rental place. He self-learnt to become an excellent director. The movies he loved the most were from Hong Kong. Old mobster movies. They weren't just about killing, they were also about the struggle between the police and the mob.
It became a trademark of Hong Kong's mobster films. There are other features too. Wú Yǔsēn's films for example, had a feature called "Mexican Standoff". So three characters pointing guns at each other. Something like that.
It creates tension. Chow Yun-fat is famous for his trench coat. He's a super tall actor. He wore trench coats and sunglasses. He had a toothpick in his mouth, surrounded by pigeons.
Bullets were flying everywhere. Blood was flowing. Stereotypical action scenes.
These became trademarks. Later, legendary director Martin Scorsese praised John Woo for the individuality in his movies. His films were different from Hollywood ones. They're all action films, but Woo's individuality made him an irreplaceable figure. His influence not only reigned over Hong Kong, Asia and Hollywood, but also Europe. John Woo is a true luminary of Hong Kong's mobster genre.
Wong Kar Wai is a different style. His style is, how to say... You don't like it? I do. How can I not? It's exceptional.
It's... I thought you would hate it. I totally love it. I watch it multiple times a week.
Wong Kar Wai made 7, 8 films. He was also really extreme. He had a unique aesthetics.
The most prevalent theme of his films is memory. Next is individual identity. And third is... Lost love. Characters spend their life searching for that love. That's how his films are.
Wong Kar Wai's films are always set in the 60s. Kind of like how we miss our youth and friends in the 90s. When we were still young and innocent. Wong Kar Wai always chooses the 60s, when he moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong. He grew up during that era. Most of his movies are set in the 60s.
Even when he made the movie 2046, set in the distant, sci-fi-ish future, he found a way to return to the 60s to continue the story of Chow Mo-wan and the women of his life. I love his style as well. Have you ever been to Hong Kong? Many times. Right but here's something I want to ask. Was there a difference in the Hong Kong that you watched and the one you went to? Or were you lost in another time...?
It was different. Films are written by cinematic language. People who have lived there for a long time, they can pick out sceneries that would look exceptional in films. Us tourists, we tend to end up at "Instagrammable" places, places that are popular, places that tour guides commonly lead us to. It's all show and no tell. We just see what are shown to us.
Film-makers avoid that. Take a film about Hanoi and Saigon for example. Of course Sword Lake and Turtle Lake will make an appearance.
But they have to find other locations too, like how Bố Già went into alleyways. Alleyways are what makes Saigon. Hong Kong directors do the same. They search for locations that are unique, that are authentically Hong Kong. Coastal villages, or alleyways, or places that are familiar to them, that they grew up in, etc. Places that only locals would know.
In one of my later trips, I think I was invited by Hong Kong Tourism Board, they suggested these type of places. They took me into the world of Wong Kar Wai, of John Woo, and others. The stairways that Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung walked on. Places like that.
You said that Hong Kong had a lot of influence on Hollywood. What about Vietnamese cinema? How likely are we to go international? You mentioned the movie Vị right? I watched the trailer and I was... Impressed right? It was impressing.
That is a case that I was very impressed by. I remember the making Vị from five years ago. I have known the director for a long time.
His name is? Le Bao. Le Bao. He was a self-learner.
He learnt through pirated movies, watched them on his laptop. He grew up in the slum of Saigon. He learnt to make films. One time I was on a judging panel for submitted scripts for Hong Anh's short film 1735.
Nguyen Minh Son and Phan Trieu Hai were on the panel too. Le Bao's script was among the top 10. I was so surprised. He was only a beginner and his script was 70 pages. There was a storyboard in there too.
It was detailed, and he did thorough research on the topic. Even though I knew he couldn't have pulled it off, cause it was too hard, too professionally challenging. But only after a few years, he won 1st in a short film festival called YxineFF 2014 the film... I can't clearly remember. It's also about the slum. Moving on from that, he decided to make this film "Vị" He started off with nothing he, along with, two other very young producers came to me and told me that they were short in budget to make a short film. They would use this short film to bring to film festivals. It'd act like a demo and people could decide whether or not to invest in this film.
After (meeting him), I posted on Facebook the experience I had with this fella and his film "Vị" It caught my attention in the very first place We know about the "American Dream". People in Vietnam dream to go and build a life in the States. and for (some) African people, Nigerian people, it's the "Vietnamese Dream" It's the "Vietnamese Dream" for them. Of course it would make you surprised - It twists - It's so peculiar - A Nigerian came to Vietnam It's more common to see the picture of Asians in Western context but with this, it twists my mind. His cinematic language is so impressive Although it only released in Berlin but international press praised him a lot saying that he would be a promising name in Asia Let's continue the story 5 years ago (I posted on Facebook) about his short film project in hope that my friends would support After a few days, he texted me saying that the team received about 100 mil VND. He had enough budget to make that short demo film A year later, he brought the short film to short film festival in Singapore and got his first achievement Plus, another producer, who come from Singapore, joined the project They came to some film funding in Europe Cannes, in Europe. He received many big sponsorship despite the pandemic
especially for the art film one, very niche, doesn't have much interest from the audience any more Both of Tran Anh Hung's latest films failed Despite all that, he still got sponsored 4-5,000 €100,000 combined. But that's not enough to make an art film. At least 7-8 bil VND (€300,000) Of course, he had to make do He already had a story and the character sponsored equipment like cameras. He made that film for 5 years and brought it to Berlin International Film Festival That was remarkable Though there aren't many cases like Lê Bảo, it's still a positive sign for the indie art film community in Vietnam.
In my article on BBC, for a film industry to develop it requires successful commercial films that create controversial I always endorse that it also requires indie art films that make their ways to international film festivals and introduce the Vietnam people, culture to the world In my opinion, that's the best way for cultural exporting People usually think arts and commerce are two ends of a spectrum but through what you said, they are two elements that help pushing the film industry - Yes, boost the industry goes further I did extensive research on developed film industries in the world Hong Kong, Taiwan were in their prime in the 80s 90s but they slowly faded. Although Korea was a bit slower, probably thanks to economy growth or they had had their vision in the last 2 decades, they have reached their high With movie genres like thrilling action, their movies are always in the world's top They are in the same league as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher When we talk about thrilling action movies, gangster ones Korea is a strong competitor Their commercial films are incredibly artistic also. For examples, Bong Joon-ho's You can enjoy both the entertainment side and the artistic language that he infuses in. Later on, even art films can attract audience. They became box office hits. "Oldboy", for example, is very shocking the extreme of Korea is illustrated strongly in the movies Those movies won both in international film festivals and commercially.
That's an ideal model. I think if Vietnam's film industry wants to develop to such extend I know it's hard because it depends on a lot of factors I call it "national traits" The Koreans, they are very extreme. They break standards dive deep into matter that challenges one's moral on topics like violence, the bad the differences in social status Vietnam cannot do that yet. We have that "circlet" holds us back We are the people that follow the saying "A bad compromise is better than a good lawsuit" Always adapt to the environment Hence our lack in extreme works We have works that touched the humanity topic with very small extreme/shocking details to the outer world Such as war films like "Cánh Đồng Hoang" or "Bao Giờ Cho Đến Tháng 10". They are all films that made great impacts and gave the world a glimpse of what Vietnam was like.
But there are not much, not enough. On the other hand, Korean movies come out constantly There was this time when every Korean movie I watched was strikingly shocking "I Saw the Devil", "Memories of Murder", "Oldboy", etc. They constantly challenge their audience, make them go from one extreme to another. That's what makes their phenomenon success in over 2 decades. It moves from only national filmmakers to abroad ones as well This year we have "Minari".
Also quite a phenomenon It's nominated for Oscars. 6 nominations Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress to join a new level, a new high then you have to get nominated for those categories with technical categories, they cannot have much affect. Last year, "Parasite" (was also nominated) for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, etc.
"Minari" is on par with, or you can say surpassing. One Korean-American and one Korean get nominated a long with actors/actresses from other countries. It shows that Korea is now on the same level with America, film creative speaking.
Though their country is small and their filmmakers still have a long way to be on par with as other American filmmakers, their creative thinking and breakthrough in creativity are on the same level. That's also our dream. I don't know when will be able to reach it. But we are allowed to have hopes. On the same note, Vietcetera has a column called "Road to Oscars" that Lâm will write about works that make their way to Oscars. Back to the show, I always as these 3 questions.
I know if we continue our conversation, it'll last for another 2 hours (Anyway), if you get stranded on an island without knowing when you could get back you get to bring one book with you, what will you bring? Not the one you are reading, isn't it? - Oh no not this. "Châu Phi..." - "Châu Phi Nghìn Trùng" It has two things that I love First, it talks about a Danish woman's experience (they) went to Africa to live... sort of colonial
Her love for Africa is what makes the value of the book. It was experiences, it was real life that she had absorbed in through many years. It helped to create her philosophic thoughts.
And when she wrote the book, she already left Africa for good. She would never come back. It became a great love of her in the past. So when I read this book, it was full of materials about Africa, a continent that is very much unfamiliar to me, yet I've always dreamt about it.
But at the same time, it contained her philosophic thoughts about human, about identities and love, or just about animals. The paragraphs that she wrote about animals with each species' characteristics were very much interesting. In the past, I would pick, I would love a book like "Zorba the Greek". That is one of my favorite books. I've always liked the type of figures that have special and lively characters, They have to be different, be extreme or freak.
That kind of characters. But during this phase, when I finished reading the book "Out of Africa", I feel like that is a book that I will bring to a desert island. Actually before the shoot, Thuy Minh talked to Mr. Lam, and I indeed have to buy and read it immediately. Because it sounds so interesting. So now, if you have to bring a movie, to watch on a desert island, please remember that you don't know when you will come back.
Just one movie? I know that your record was watching 10 movies in 2 weekend days or something like that, right? If only one movie, I think I will come back to a piece of work that had made me cry in the cinema. It was the Hanoi Cinematheque. In one winter evening. And I went there to watch "Tokyo Story" by Ozu. And after watching it...
The story was very simple, very ordinary, about family and familyhood, about generation differences between parents and children and even the children of the children. It was like that. So when I watched that movie, I was like, I didn't even know that I cried. And when I left the cinema, at that time I lived in Cau Giay street, and I went to Hai Ba Trung street to watch it. I always went to the cinema alone, silently came and left between the group full of foreigners.
At that time the Hanoi Cinematheque was mostly for foreigners. I always had my earphones on. And when I left, I kept on going and eventually got lost. Even though I'm normally driving while thinking kind of person, but I never get lost. I go straight home, just like that. But that day after watching the movie, I got lost, because I feel like my emotion was shaken up.
And I feel that my mistakes, or things like... How to say that, I mean my feelings towards my mom and dad. I could feel them then, things that were deep inside, in the core of myself, that I had forgotten for too long. Sometimes because of my own selfishness, because of the happiness of a free bird that I forgot how my parents living in the countryside had to suffer from painful and turbulent times in the past and present.
Meanwhile I almost forgot everything now. So that movie stirred up, it stirred up or even woke up the emotions and feelings inside of me. It made me feel grateful. So sometimes movie about family, I'm always excited about them.
For example, "Bo Gia". I'm excited about movies about family and familyhood, about conflicts between generations, about things that we can't say out loud between children and parents. That kind of thing.
Just like in "Bo Gia", the line that made me cry was, have you ever taken a photo with your mom or dad? That kind of thing. I go to a lot of places and take photos of many things, but it's been a long time since I took a photo with my mom and dad or said loving words. Those things to people in the central are, sometimes it belongs to the characteristic. We never say those words even though inside we are aching. I love my mom and dad, especially my mom, she sacrificed a lot and I love her so much, but I never dare to say those words out loud.
Now I understand how you like "Bo Gia" so much. I like everything you just said. So now, in many years of you working in the field, writing articles and critical reviews, have you ever had to leave anything behind? And what it was? When you think about the word "leaving".
Leaving behind. Have you never left anything behind? I'm trying to understand what "leave behind" means. - Is quitting okay? - That's fine. So I think my bravest decision that I quit from a system to go back to being personal.
I left a company, a newspaper house to go back and be myself. I don't depend on anyone or be under anyone's pressure. And I'm a completely free bird. I follow my emotions, follow my instincts, and do as my heart tells me. I'm not under any pressure.
So maybe that is a "quitting". I remember that time. So what you gain the most after quitting is being a free bird. Freedom, for sure.
And... How do I say this? They always say, if you want to... Go far, go alone? What is the quote? “If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.” Go together, right. So I realize that, I don't fit in. Maybe it's not "go fast" or "go far", but I don't fit in a group.
I'm not suitable for doing teamwork. I still develop to my full potential in my personal point of view. When I'm alone and not under any pressure. That is my true self.
So after about 5 years of being free, now I feel like what I gain the most is the feeling of freedom. So that's why you said, maybe you won't become a movie director, but maybe you will write a screenplay and turn it into a movie. Or a piece of literature work. I've been planning to write one about family. Okay, so now, every connection dots start to connect.
A book of... So did you write it? Because those projects... I know that you had 6 books about film industry. There will be one about family. Actually this book... When my dad passed away,
I wrote an article, then an editor of Tuoi Tre newspaper put it in an issue about father and children. There was mostly seniors, famous writers, Bao Ninh and some other well-known writers. Maybe she was touched by that work.
Its name was "Tinh ca cua ba" (Father's love song) So she put it in that issue, and I was touched by being next to the seniors. Then after that she said, I feel like I edit for the publishing house for a long time. You still have a lot of feelings inside about your parents, your family.
Do you plan on writing a novel? So I said, actually I do. Actually it's a mix between autobiography and novel. Those memories happened for years.
Just like "Minari", the memories of that boy but in many years later. So it's childhood memories, as well as life experiences. So when I look back, I combine them together.
I want to write a book like that. This is "Tinh ca cua ba", an editor at Young publishing house had mentioned it, and once a year she reminds me how much did you write? I think I need to try to finish it this year. Okay, let's say I have the proof today.
I have some more pressure. No but I think sometimes, right? That's right, it's necessary. For example, if I write for Nghia. I have a "sickness", which is never meeting deadlines for work.
I need to be reminded, I'm never on time. Actually it's a "sickness" of Gemini. Always a little bit late.
You can't blame it on the universe. I read the characteristics of zodiac signs, I think it's true. Gemini is very suitable for me. Like I always read 2, 3 books at the same time.
Watch 2, 3 movies at the same time. I always have that "sickness". And the second thing is always late. Many people already told me off.
Not too late that makes a disaster. But a friend of mine, Thuy Le, being late for an hour is normal. Even two hours. She is late for at least a week after a deadline, sometimes even half a month. For me, it's only a day or two, but I'm always late. I can see a person here like that.
And a person has to remind and push me, just then I have motivation to work. So I always need an editor like that. When I work with Vietcetera on DVD section, after that is Road to Oscars, I think very highly of Nghia, firstly in regard to always reminding me and secondly, he edits very carefully, and chooses illustration images.
And when I read those articles, I'm very happy. I'm very pleased. Firstly I have a section that include all of my articles, so they don't get mixed up. Secondly, the formatting and images work together very well.
They highlight each other. When I read to that point, it makes... Just like, young people nowadays make film review videos on Youtube, for example. When they mention a point, they have a illustration visual right away.
They are the new generation, technology, high-tech generation, but I'm low-tech, I don't do things like that. I can only write. I use only words. And I'm also lazy, that kind of thing. So in every articles being edited by Nghia, the images are chosen carefully, very on point, and the illustrated sentences are very close in meaning.
So I really like it. And that, might be one of the young editors that I think highly of in regard to his specialty. I also want to take this chance to thank Mr. Lam for working with Vietcetera. And a sentence that I hear a lot on Friday is, "Miss, Mr. Lam moves the date to another day." Just kidding, but actually I'm very thankful to you for doing your job.
I really appreciate that, maybe because I'm not young anymore. I really appreciate the fact that we can keep in a form that isn't easy to lose. I also usually choose to interview in this podcast...
Actually podcasts or Youtube videos can be moved, or... In regard to their presence, if we turn it off then it disappears. But I feel like books, or things that are really from the bottom of our hearts, the physical level can be helpful.
And I also hope... Today, as I said, we can talk a lot more, but there are a few things. Firstly I want you to think about how classical works can be kept as archives. And we discuss about, the possibility of going out to the world, or we discuss about colors of films, the scenes that have an influence on us.
Thank you for coming to Have A Sip. Thank you, Thuy Minh and everyone. Thank you everyone for watching. Goodbye and see you next time.