1735 KM or 1,735 kim

December 2, 2006

1735 Km (2005)

Romantic comedy follows two strangers across Vietnam


When Kay Nguyen ’07 came back to campus after taking a year off, she had gained a new appreciation of what Grinnell meant to her. Of course, she had also gained credentials as the screenwriter and assistant director of a feature film.

A year after her return, after journeying multiple times along a route up and down Vietnam through five major cities from Hanoi to Saigon and back, Nguyen finally has a chance to show off the fruits of her labor.

Her cinematic brainchild 1735 Km has its U.S. premier on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Harris Cinema. Ngugen will speak at a reception in the Harris lobby at 7:00.

Nguyen signed on with the film when she was approached by a fledgling production company, Ky Dong Productions, looking for aspiring young artists interested in making films.

The company had discovered her through film reviews she had written for English and Vietnamese publications. They asked her to write a screenplay, and she accepted.

According to Nguyen, 1735 Km is a romantic comedy following the scenic journey of two strangers, a male and a female, stranded together and penniless in the northern city of Hanoi, desperate to find their way home to the southern city of Saigon. The film’s title refers to the distance the two characters traverse.

For the first-time screenwriter, the working process was an artistic journey, but also one that led to realizations about the commercial aspect of film.

“Film is a very funny product of this century,” said Nguyen. “It’s the very mix between money and art … you have to make money to make films. And sometimes as you go along, the executive producer gets to say a lot and they usually control the artistic things.”

“Basically, the whole [cinematic] production is a very unglamorous process and it takes a lot of hard work and not just … expressing your own artistic ideas,” she said. “I was very lucky to have the director tutor me in writing and also the politics of the whole thing.”

Nguyen found surprising links between her yearlong adventure and her time in an Iowa classroom.

“You have to take a step back in order to appreciate something … and so I took a year off and while I was working I constantly found that all of the skills, the way of thinking, even the pleasure of working was actually determined, largely, by the Grinnell experience,” she said. “Anyone who passed the Grinnell ordeal … [is] equipped with something very precious.”

1735 km
The Road to Creating a New Vision
of Cinema in Viet Nam Today

by Donn Garton and Thuy Pham
photos courtesy of Ky Dong Productions

A serendipitous train ride from Ha Noi to Ho Chi Minh City brings together a poor, aspiring artist and a young woman from a wealthy family. Tram Anh (played by Dong Yen Ngoc) is about to be married to a man she may or may not love, while Kien (Ho Khanh Trinh) is torn between living out his dreams or facing the responsibilities of adulthood. After they are unexpectedly left stranded and broke in the middle of the night, they begin an unconventional road trip of discovery through Viet Nam. Part romantic comedy, part coming-of-age story, part travel journal, 1735 km is a touching snapshot of today’s Vietnamese youth as they search for identity and meaning in a rapidly changing world.

Released in October 2005, the Vietnamese production1735 km was made on a shoestring budget by Ky Dong Productions. Shot on location throughout Viet Nam, the film marks a departure from contemporary Vietnamese cinema, an industry traditionally dominated by popular romantic comedies. The filmmakers wanted to address the personal and emotional issues facing the young people of Viet Nam today, issues that have yet to find a real voice in mainstream Vietnamese media.

We caught up with Nguyen Quang Thai, one of the film’s producers and screen writers, at a trendy cafe in downtown HCMC and asked him for his take on 1735 km, youth culture, and his personal experiences living and working in Viet Nam. Raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Thai and his family came to the U.S. in 1975. After graduating with a degree in design, he moved to New York City where he formed a successful interactive media company. Thai returned with his parents to Viet Nam soon after 9/11 and fell in love with the country.

NHA: 1735 km is very different from many of the films that have come out of Viet Nam. There’s a real independent style and feel to it. Can you talk a little about that?

NQT: There were already films out there like Scent of Green Papaya, Cyclo, and Three Seasons, but these were foreign productions with foreign budgets. Our goal was to produce a film that lived up to those films’ international standards but had a Vietnamese budget and was a collaboration between Viet Kieu [overseas Vietnamese] and local Vietnamese crewmembers.

NHA: Was it a difficult film to cast?

NQT: We had a choice of either going with professionals who have a more exaggerated style or going with untrained actors. A lot of the acting in Vietnamese films is very melodramatic because many of the actors come from the stage. So we decided to make the acting real, go with untrained actors, work with them for two months, and get them into the role.

Film acting in Viet Nam has a long way to go. There’s got to be more people coming from overseas and collaborating with these young actors. There’s potential, it’s just hard to get that real sensibility that is often found in international films.

NHA: What was it like working with the film crew?

NQT: It was a young crew but we also had a few people who were more experienced and brought an old school mentality to the production. We knew there was a lot of young talent here in Viet Nam, they just needed a little experience, exposure and support. Our writer was 20 years old and still in school at Cornell College. She gave up a year to work on the project.

NHA: Was there any tension between the younger members of the crew and the more experienced people?

NQT: Our art designer almost walked off the set because he didn’t like taking orders from another crewmember who he felt was too young to know what she was doing. The tension was between the old crew saying, “You guys have no clue what you’re doing” and the new crew responding, “We don’t want [to make] these traditional Vietnamese films. We want to push the art direction and the costumes into new territory.” But that tension was good because we got these beautiful modern sets that were the result of both old school and new school points of view. Our intent was collaboration and experimentation, trying to see if there was another way to make films in Viet Nam.

NHA: Were there any challenges specific to filming in Viet Nam?

NQT: On the government side it was all about crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s. We had to find a Vietnamese partner to work with. We needed licenses to shoot everything and local police had to be present to check the film. You need to get approval from the government for the script, you need approval of what you’ve shot before you send it to Thailand to get developed, and then once the film is done, you’ve got to get final approval. It takes a lot of approvals.

NHA: Were you treated differently as a Viet Kieu?

NQT: Of course, but we also tried to be very careful with what we said in the press and how we presented ourselves. We didn’t want to come across like, “I’m a Viet Kieu, I know what should be right, and this is how it’s done.”

It was a challenge but we also got a lot of support from the people in Viet Nam because they were curious to see what we could do. If we did well, it was going to help them. The more we added to the system, the more chance there would be to do other types of movies. When people heard what we were doing, we got a lot of support from niche web sites run by young people saying, “What can we do to help? This is great, we need a voice.”

NHA: Producing independent films, especially in Viet Nam, must be a bit of a roller coaster ride.

NQT: There were several moments of “Ah shit, we’re not going to be able to finish this film” due to a variety of reasons. Funds that we thought were coming in didn’t, so we would just keep pushing it as far as we could until it finally came through. On one shoot the whole crew got food poisoning. We also had to deal with the insecurity of not knowing whether what we had shot was good or not. Viet Nam doesn’t have the facilities for 35mm film developing so we had to send everything to Thailand. We would shoot for a week, send it off and then wait a week to get the beta back which shows you whether the color and lighting was right. But for us, if anything turned out to be wrong with the film, it was too late anyway to fix it because we didn’t have time or the money to re-shoot mistakes.

NHA: You have a small comic role in the film. What was that like?

NQT: I was forced! It was really stressful. In the film, there are dialects from all different parts of Viet Nam but my character was difficult to play because you’re not supposed to know exactly where he’s from, which helped because my Vietnamese is really horrible! One of the things we wanted to do was bring different characters to the screen that were not stereotypically Vietnamese. For some reason, my fellow producer Tung saw something of me in this crazy, freaked out character. It was my first and I think last acting role!

NHA: What has been the feedback from audiences in Viet Nam?

NQT: The film was a very different type of story for audiences here because it talks about what young people are going through, talks about this developing Viet Nam, talks about traveling, talks about the future.

We had some problems with the press like how certain roles were not “Vietnamese,” but for me as a creative person, I wanted to challenge what is Vietnamese, and show what can be Vietnamese. We expected only a certain amount of people were going to “get it.” On the surface, it’s a simple love story, but if you really listen to the dialogue and see what we are trying to do, there is a lot more to it. And it was the youth culture, the opinion leaders, the kids who want something different and don’t want to be told how they should be kids, they were the ones who “got it.”

NHA: What specific changes do you think young people are struggling with now?

NQT: As an Asian American, my father encouraged and hoped that I would be an engineer. In college, when I finally had the heart to tell him “Dad, I want to be in art,” he didn’t get it. So the movie reflects some of the things I went through with my family, cultural identity, and the challenges of figuring that out in my youth.

If you look around, Vietnamese in the last four years have completely changed, especially the youth culture. It’s actually what the two main characters share with one another—challenges of the old and the new, the conflicts and consequences of incorporating one at the expense of the other. What Kien represents is this spontaneous life filled with living moments in the “now.” Tram Anh represents just the opposite. She is constricted to what is right, what is safe and secure, but in the end it’s kind of both.

NHA: What other areas do you see having an impact on Vietnamese society?

NQT: I think television, like movies, will be another opportunity for change. And if you want to reach people on a massive scale, you go to TV because everyone has access to it for free. Right now the challenge is finding quality content—other than Korean soap operas, game shows, or really bad Vietnamese soap operas. The government is willing to rely on people like myself or others to be out-of-the-box thinkers. Because of this, creativity in Viet Nam is going to change and people are going to say “I want more, I want different.”

More specifically, I think you’ll see reality TV as the new wave of programs. It’s not so much of the Real World types of reality, but more like shows similar to the Apprentice just because it’s more reflective of an aspect of Vietnamese society which deals with competition, conflict, and being nosey.

NHA: You have a small comic role in the film. What was that like?


NHA: What’s up next for you and your film? NQT: We’ve been working on trying to get more exposure for the film while also looking to produce more films focused on an international audience. Hopefully, an international distributor will pick it up and show it outside of Viet Nam. We just finished a marketing show in Berlin to get the film distributed. We’ve also been showing the film in various film festivals like the Santa Monica Film Festival. It’ll also be showing in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival. I think it’s a great film for the Vietnamese American community to see because it offers something different than the typical images of Viet Nam, which are mainly that of war or struggle.

Besides the film, I do some marketing and branding consulting with a few Vietnamese companies like Vietnamworks.com.

NHA: What message do you most want to convey to other Viet Kieu artists or filmmakers?

NQT: I hope that by reading this they’ll get some sense of the creative possibilities in Viet Nam. What I found was that coming here was easier because there’s a clean slate. You can do whatever you want. We couldn’t have made this film overseas because investors wouldn’t have gone for a movie with untrained actors and such a young crew.

With all of its beauty, there are still lots of stories to tell in Viet Nam. I urge all creative people to come back and take a crack at it. The community here needs experience. If they want to collaborate, get involved, or even share or discuss an insight, but don’t know how, they are more than welcome to contact me. I’m a huge supporter of people coming back and doing something-anything creative. Once that starts to happen, then it’ll get really exciting.

1735 km


For more information about 1735 km, contact Nguyen Quang Thai at
, or visit www. liquidlinestudio.com.


Digital gets it on the screen prettier, cheaper


Blue screen: The upcoming film 1,735km is among select Vietnamese productions using digital technologies. — VNS Photo

Vietnamese films will become more interesting as filmmakers start to apply new techniques, including digital technology, which can help them to produce the images of their mind’s eye, reported Digital Video Solutions (DVS).

The technologies, including digital film (DF) and digital intermediate process (DI), which have been used in many countries for more than 10 years, have recently arrived in Viet Nam.

In simplest terms DI is the digitisation of film, which is then digitally enhanced and reprinted on film. This process influences everything from on set production to the delivery of content to consumers.

According to director of DVS, Nguyen Nam Duong, “the application of digital technology is akin to putting spices in a tasty dish. In the future, will audiences be entertained by actors’ performances alone?”

Khi Dan Ong Co Bau (When Men Are Pregnant), 39 Do Yeu (39 Degree of Love) and 1,735km are among a select few Vietnamese films that have been produced using these technologies.

For 39 Degree of Love, DI was used to edit a 16-episode television series into a 90-minute movie. In addition, the technology, supplied by Digital Magic Hong Kong Co, enabled the filmmakers to create different effects: the images’ colour is brighter and sharper than its was for the TV series.

According to Duong, filmmakers will benefit greatly from DI, which, most importantly, helps lower production costs.

“Nowadays, all aspects of film production are becoming increasingly influenced by digital technology. The latest ground swell to hit filmmaking is the DI process. In Viet Nam, thanks to advantages of DF and DI, a 90-minute movie with hi-fi sound can be produced for under US$90,000, in comparison to the cost of hundreds of thousands dollars that the old technique incurred,” he said.

DI also can bring many other benefits, includes film restoration, editing, mixing, visual, mastering; international versioning including subtitles; creating different release formats, such as DVD, VCD, HDTV (High Definition TV), among others.

Founded in 2003, DVS is one of the first companies in Viet Nam to apply the technologies in TV ads, films and many Vietnamese music videos, of which Giac Mo Tinh Yeu (Love Dream) performed by My Tam won Best Image prize at last year’s VTV-The Song I Like programme. In addition, the company is involved in the postproduction of movies, such as 1,735km and De Muon (Lease Pregnancy), which will go on general release soon.

Another foreign-capitalised company that specialises in postproduction, recently set up a house in HCM City. The company, Digipost Vietnam, a subsidiary of Digipost Singapore, “has been equipped with the latest equipment to meet the demands of Vietnamese filmmakers,” said the branch’s director Allen Seet.

The Singapore-based company has gained a lot of experience in the field since it was established 12 years ago. Digipost has worked on the production of programmes for well-known channels such as MTV and The Discovery Channel.

“The foundation of Digipost Vietnam has created an opportunity for us to work with Vietnamese film producers,” Allen added.

He also expects that other filmmakers from the region will bring their products to Viet Nam for postproduction in the coming years, because “our company will offer competitive prices,” he said.

Both Duong and Allen believe that digital technology will become widespread in Viet Nam over the next three years. — VNS



Soạn: AM 691793 gi đến 996 để nhn ảnh này
“First Morning” by director Victor Vu.

The four Vietnamese entries into the 2005 Pusan Film Festival were all made by overseas Vietnamese directors.


The films include 1735 km by director Nguyen Nghiem Dang Tuan, Ao Lua Ha Dong (Ha Dong Silk Dress) by director Luu Huynh, Hat Mua Roi Bao Lau (Bride of Silence) by directors Doan Minh Phuong and Doan Thanh Nghia and Vuot Song (Journey From the Fall) by director Tran Ham.


Two of the films were made in Vietnam. 1735 km was produced by the Ky Dong Company, while Ao Lua Ha Dong was co-produced by the Phuoc Sang, BHD and Anh Viet film production companies. Vuot Song was made abroad, and Hat Mua Roi Bao Lau was named Best First Film at the Kerela Film Festival in India.


2005 was also the busiest year, yet, for Viet Kieu films produced in Vietnam. Recently, Dragon Pictures and the Giai Phone Film Company co-produced Ringo Le’s new film, Sai Gon Love Story. It will be screened throughout Vietnam this Lunar New Year.


Vietnamese people got more good news at the end of 2005 when they learned that Nguyen Vo Nghiem Minh’s poetic film, Mua Len Trau (Buffalo Boy) is up for consideration for the Oscar for best foreign film. The nominations will be announced officially on January 31st.


However, these movies were not all unqualified successes. 1735 km gets the nod for biggest disappointment. Costing VND4 billion to produce, the film grossed only VND300 million and forced the Ky Dong Production Company out of business.


2005 also saw the debut of overseas Vietnamese director Victor Vu’s first film in the US, First Morning. The cast includes Kathleen Luong, Dang Hung Son, Catherine Thuy Ai, Long Nguyen, and Johnny Tri Nguyen, and the film was shown at festivals in Newport Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto and Chicago. It won Best First Feature at the Asian Film Festival in San Diego.


Other prominent Vietnamese actors working in the US include Tuan Cuong, Catherine Thuy Ai, Kathy Nguyen, Becky B Vu, Michael Minh, Thy Dao, and Nam Sinh Tin.


Overseas Vietnamese actress Maggie Q was cast alongside Tom Cruise for Mission Impossible 3, which will hit theatres in May, 2006. Q has appeared in such other American blockbusters as Rush Hour 2 and Around the World in 80 Days, among others.


The film Little Fish, starring Cate Blanchett, also features a number of Vietnamese actors, like Dustin Nguyen, Lan Ngoc, Anh Do Tran and Ferdinad Hoang in prominent roles. The film was screened for the Vietnamese community in Cambretta Australia on September 4th.