Kim Chi, Isaac, Vu T. Le Thi
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… entrancing and intelligent …
This (2018) film quite literally looks beautiful from the first frame, and stays that way, whether the camera be focussed on hyper-colourful theatrical costumes or street life. The title – which translates as “two men” – incidentally refers to a Vietnamese percussion instrument, used in modern folk opera, whose rhythms are said to show a moral path for the musician.
The main protagonist Mr. Dung (Lien Binh Phat), a ruthless debt collector for loan sharks who is known as Dung the Thunderbolt, presumably because of his tendency to resort quickly to violence against those who don’t pay up. Phat has a smouldering presence, and his character has a cynical and sardonic attitude to life – devoid, it would appear, of both illusions and happiness.
But as we see in the effective and sparingly used flashbacks, it wasn’t always like that. Dung’s parents were musicians, and as a child he adored and rejoiced in traditional Vietnamese opera. Memories come flooding back when he has to collect from Linh Phung (Isaac), an actor and singer in one such production. The opera’s melodramatic excesses form a neat counterpoint to Dung’s still-waters-run-deep persona. Dung and Phung circle each other like rather benign sharks, playing video games, chatting with a mixture of mockery and curiosity, looking at the night sky, discussing a children’s book… If that’s starting to sound a tad sentimental, it simply isn’t; the dialogue and the acting make sure of that.
The homoerotic element in Song Lang is strictly sub-textual, but there’s no mistaking it. This is an entrancing and intelligent movie, with a cracker of an ending that you’re not likely to predict. Highly recommended.