In Vietnamese with English subtitles.
Director Leon Le deftly balances the grandeur of the stage with gritty realism in his feature film debut. Set in Saigon in the 1980s, Song Lang revolves around two men who may have more in common than they think they do when their lives first intersect.
Lien Binh Phat plays Dung ‘Thunderbolt,’ a debt collector whose main tactic to get people to pay is to throw around his fists. When he goes to collect from a struggling folk opera company, he meets Linh Phung, the quiet leading actor played by former Vpop singer, Isaac. Dung is about to burn the company’s costumes when Linh steps in to pay what he can out of his own pocket. This tough, underground collector is immediately struck with how Linh stands up to defend his company.
Over the course of a few days, we see a bond forming between these two men. Linh has struggled with acting the emotional moments in the opera’s finale, and Dung remains emotionally closed off to everyone – he barely looks anyone in the eye, as if he’s making a conscious effort not to connect. Phat’s performance is sturdy and strong, and there’s a brooding machismo not unlike Heath Ledger’s Ennis del Mar from Brokeback Mountain. A relative newcomer, Phat won the Gemstone Award for rising star at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Vietnamese Cinema Association awarded him Best Actor. His performance brings a hard edge that is balanced beautifully by Isaac’s warmth and open face. When these two men spend time alone with one another, you wonder whether they will end up as respected friends or something more. The chemistry between them is easy, sweet, and more flirtatious than either may realize.
There is melodrama on display, but Le grounds it with gentle direction complemented by the amber hues from cinematographer Bob Nguyen. Saigon is both dangerous and alive in Song Lang, but Le’s film reminds us that art often imitates life.
~ Joey Moser
Awards & Accolades