Leon Le has done a marvelous job directing his first feature film, Song Lang. Ambitious and rich in both screenplay and mise-en-scène, it tells the story of Dung ‘Thunderbolt’ (Lien Binh Phat), a debt collector with a conscience whose path crosses with Linh Phung (Isaac), a Cai-luong folk opera singer and lead star. These two opposing personalities form a bond after Dung opens up about his past when he was also raised in the Cai-luong tradition.
pays much attention to mundane details as he builds his story in an amber-hued
1980s Saigon. His camera lingers or hurries, depending on the pace of the story
it is trying to tell. When the Cai-luong music starts, the editing is very
dynamic, pumping up our adrenaline, as if we are about to see the show in
person. But when it rains, the negative spaces leave our characters with such
music and sound design help to build up the ambience of the film. In fact, it
is one of the most important elements, since there are a lot of scenes in which
Cai-luong performs on stage. Even when my only means to understand the
Vietnamese songs are through subtitles, I feel connected with the music and the
emotion behind every song.
story is told in such a brilliant way. It shows the carefully crafted layers of
unrequited love between star-crossed lovers, both on the stage and in front of
the camera. The script is so well thought-out that every scene has its own
portion in the overall story, which includes effective use of flashbacks. The
characters are multi-dimensional and complex, which make their journeys
believable and relatable to the audience.
Le does not bother to show explicit action or dramatic dialogs. He just needs to show the moving bed with moaning in the background and our minds will surmise what is happening when the camera turns shyly away from a vulgar scene. This also happen with what is going on between Dung and Linh Phung. The audience can guess what those two characters feel about each other, as it is never confirmed even when the film ends. However, I maintain that this is the strongest point of Le’s narrative as he chooses a Cai-luong folk tale that is the Vietnamese version of Romeo and Juliet. As he juxtaposes what is going on stage with what is going on in the characters’ lives, he successfully builds up tension up to climax by giving very subtle clues. He surprises us with something we should have seen coming, yet we still hope would not, just for the sake of the lovable characters.
is another brilliant point about this film as all the characters (not only the
two main ones) are portrayed convincingly, showing Le’s capability for coaxing
performances. Never before have I been so invested in an LGBTQ-themed film’s
characters that I cried in the end, not only because they do not get what they
want and what they need, but also because they have overcome so much that I sincerely
hoped that they would get their happy endings.
all that, it is no wonder why Song Lan
won three 2019 Vietnamese Golden Kite Award for Best Feature Film, Best Actor
for Feature Film (Lien Binh Phat) and Best Cinematographer for Feature Film (Bob
Azalia Muchransyah is pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Study at University at Buffalo (SUNY). She is a recipient of 2017 DIKTI-Funded Fulbright Ph.D. Scholarship. Her area of interest is advocacy media, specifically AIDS Media in Indonesia. Prior to her Fulbright award, she was the Deputy Head of Film Program at Bina Nusantara University International, Jakarta, Indonesia. Her short films have been officially selected and screened in international festivals and academic conferences. They include Halal (2017), HIV/AIDS: Not A Death Sentence (2018), Big Durian Big Apple (2018), Blue Film (2018), and Tamu (2018).