SONG LANGDirected by Leon Le
Filmmakers in attendance.
Linh Phung is the star of a traveling Vietnamese opera troupe deep in debt. Dung is the enforcer come to collect. After an unlikely friendship forms between the two, Linh Phung learns how a lived life is necessary for art and Dung follows art back to a life worth living.
Leon Le’s SONG LANG is at once an exquisitely stylized paean to cải lương (a form of modern Vietnamese folk opera), a queer romance, and gangster film. Set in Vietnam in late 1980s, SONG LANG focuses on Dung (Lien Binh Phat), a brooding debt collector not above roughing up clients in arrears. Paying a visit to a cải lương company behind on payment, Dung threatens to set the costumes ablaze unless the troupe pays up. Despite these cold-blooded threats, Dung had already fixated on a handsome young actor in the troupe, Linh Phung (Isaac), who promises to repay the debt. In flashbacks, we learn that Dung’s parents were also cải lương performers, and that opera represents a bridge to happier times. Later, Dung saves Linh Phung from bullies at a diner, and they bond over playing the Nintendo classic Contra, their love of cải lương, and the possibilities of time travel. As this unlikely quasi-courtship takes root, fate intervenes.
Although it shares a blueprint with 1993’s FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE, Le, in his feature debut, soft-pedals the melodrama in favor of visual poetry. Le lovingly recreates the Saigon of his childhood, capturing a dilapidated splendor that recalls Wong Kar-wai’s half-remembered, half-romanticized Hong Kong of the 1960s. Wong’s outsized influence can also be seen through Le’s unbalanced compositions and green and amber light scheme, which suffuses Saigon’s cinder-block walls, narrow alleyways, and linoleum-floored dive restaurants with an otherworldly beauty. SONG LANG is a gorgeous movie to get lost in. —Ryan Wu
Co-presented with Community Partners: Outfest, Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA)
Director, Writer, Editor: Leon Le
Co-Writer: Minh Ngoc Nguyen
Producer: Ngo Thanh Van, Irene Trinh
Composer: An Ton That
Production Designer, Costume Designer: Ghia Fam