Director Leon Le paints a beautiful, intimate story of desire set during 1980’s Saigon. By taking tradition and modern ideals, Song Lang is able to find a sensitive medium between two opposing worlds and two very opposing lead characters. Screening this December at the Merlinka Festival, Song Lang may be one of the most serene, most impactful the festival will have to offer.
Following the life of Dung “Thunderbolt’ (Lien Binh Phat) , an underground debt collector who spends his days working and his nights at his rundown home, playing video games. He seems caught in the same daily routine until he is tasked with collecting debt from a local theatre where he meets Linh Phung (Isaac) a leading actor in a Vietnamese opera. As the two cross paths more frequently, their conflicting lives become intertwined as the two find themselves drawn together. Coming from incredibly opposing worlds, they seem an odd pairing who you would never expect to connect but in their own way they find something beautiful together.
Immediately obvious is the gorgeous cinematography and set design that combines together to create a nostalgic setting that you are instantly drawn in to. Using slow pans and tilts that allow the camera to flow through the environment, every scene has a lightness about it but when Dung is faced with conflict it so gracefully moves in to violent movements showcasing some striking fight choreography. This dreamlike camera movement is especially prevalent when you pair it with the beautiful use of lighting which so often leaves a gorgeous orange glow to the scenes shared between Dung and Linh, such as at the theatre when Dung watches a performance for the first time. The warm glow contrasts the cold nature of Dung’s world and we are left bathing in Linh’s light just the same as Dung.
Without performances to match the glorious images we see on screen, Song Lang could have fallen short but this is most certainly not the case. The leading performances are both emotive and intimate which focus more on the internal struggles of these two men. In his performance of Dung, Phat is able to portray a restrained figure, clearly struggling to come to terms with the decisions in his life that led him to where he is but still with hope for what could lay ahead of him. Despite his cold nature he possesses a warm heart and despite a short temper and a tendency for violence, he is a good natured man struggling to express himself. In comparison Isaac’s Linh is a far more expressive role both on and off the stage. While performing he sings loud and proud but backstage he is reserved, hiding from his peers and avoiding confrontation. When the two connect something incredible happens. They begin to see the best in each other and a hope which was once thought dead can bloom again between the two.
Song Lang is about the journey of rediscovering yourself and the hope you once lost. You may find it in unlikely places or people but when you do, you want it to be cared for and protected. Providing a powerful story, gorgeous direction and memorable leading performances, Song Lang will stand out among its peers as a moving piece of cinema that can touch many a heart. If one film will make you believe in love and hope again, this will be it. It will demand your attention, keep you drawn in to the blossoming relationship and leave your heart yearning for more.