Seats fill for films

April 12, 2007

A celebration of Vietnamese moviemaking is turning three, and organizers expect its biggest audiences yet.

Seats fill for films

Seats fill for films
ALL IN THE DELIVERY: Johnny Nguyen delivers a punishing kick to a villain in “The Rebel,” which makes its world premiere Thursday in Irvine at the third Vietnamese International Film Festival.

“THE REBEL”: Johnny Nguyen, left, and Ngo Thanh Van star in the movie, the third feature film from Buena Park resident Charlie Nguyen. The movie was a special accomplishment for Nguyen because of the troubles the cast and crew endured in Vietnam, he said.

Seats fill for films
READY FOR THE CROWDS: Actors Johnny Tri Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van, movie director Charlie Nguyen and film festival co-director Ysa Le, from left. ANDY TEMPLETON, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

The Orange County Register

One of Charlie Nguyen’s big dreams is coming true this week.

The Buena Park resident’s feature film “The Rebel” is making its world premiere Thursday at the Vietnamese International Film Festival. It’s Nguyen’s third movie, and it’s also the third incarnation of the biennial film fest. By all accounts, the festival is getting larger and more influential each year.

The third Vietnamese International Film Festival, called “ViFF” by organizers and participants, runs Thursday through Sunday and April 19-22. Most films screen at UC Irvine’s Film and Video Center, with the opening movie at Edwards University in Irvine.

What started as a joint project between two area Vietnamese-American nonprofit organizations has become one of the nation’s largest gatherings for Vietnamese cinema and a launching pad for aspiring filmmakers.

“ViFF has always been our supporter from the very beginning,” said Nguyen, 39, who grew up in Orange County and graduated from Garden Grove High School.

“To make ‘The Rebel,’ we needed a lot of support from peers and friends, and ViFF was the portal through which all of our support came from. It’s sort of like a cradle for Vietnamese filmmakers in the community.”

The Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association and the VietNamese Language and Culture organization at UCLA started the film festival in October 2003 by showing previously released films. It has grown into a popular gathering for the local Vietnamese community, with 51 films, social events and new movies making world and national premieres. About 5,000 attendees are anticipated this year.

“This is the biggest ever,” said Ysa Le, festival co-director. “There definitely has been growth. We see a younger generation of filmmakers with energy and new work. It’s a very diverse group.”

Opening picture “The Rebel” is a rare Vietnamese action and martial arts drama set in the 1920s. The film, in Vietnamese with English subtitles, was shot in Vietnam last year and stars Johnny Nguyen (Charlie’s younger brother), Ngo Thanh Van and Dustin Nguyen (no relation), whose first breakout role was in television’s “21 Jump Street.”

“I have been wanting to work in Vietnam,” said Dustin Nguyen, who plays the villain Sy – his first turn as an antagonist and his first acting job in Vietnamese. “It’s extremely important there are festivals to promote and encourage Vietnamese-American artists to make films. Otherwise, there’s really not an outlet to learn or see films.”

“The Rebel’s” cast and crew shot for 80 days in Vietnam, whose film industry is still playing catch-up with Hollywood’s and Hong Kong’s. They had to deal with a number of obstacles, including crew members who got sick, actors who got hurt and cultural police officers who monitored every move.

“We overcame a lot of difficulties,” Charlie Nguyen said. “There were tons of disasters and obstacles. It was a labor of love for a lot of people. So it’s something that we all feel very proud of.”

Other new films that have been attracting buzz include “Dust of Life,” “The White Silk Dress” and “Journey From the Fall,” a saga about re-education camps and refugees that had a national release last month.

“We’ve seen the success of ‘Journey from the Fall’ in the theaters,” Le said. “Vietnamese cinema is getting attention. Other films will follow and get the spotlight as well.”

And the filmmakers attending this festival are ready for their chance to shine.

Contact the writer: 714-796-6026 or rchang@ocregister.com

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