A 'Clash' act

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Some of the most talented filmmakers in Vietnam are coming together to make the hot new action movie Bay rong

(Clash).Buckle your seatbelts because Chang Phuong Films, the producer of the blockbuster hit "The Rebel," has just started production on another action movie - "Clash."

When the movie finally hits theaters at the end of the year, you can count on a grand premiere with lots of glitz and star power. But before that, there's a lot of very unglamorous work that has to be done.

Filmmaking is famous for being a collaborative art, and rightly so. It requires a Herculean effort to coordinate all the departments: camera, lighting, set design, actors, finance, sound, editing, marketing... the list goes on. So for any film to be successful, it must start out with a capable team that works well together. In essence, collaborate or die.

Luckily, one of the strengths of "Clash" is its production team, starting with its producers, Jimmy Phan, Tawny Nguyen and Jenny Trang Le.

Jenny, who is serving as both first assistant director (AD) and co-producer, definitely has her hands full. As the only producer overseeing the day-to-day business of the film, her job is to make sure the movie is "under budget, and on schedule while keeping the creative vision of the director - basically to keep everybody happy."

Needless to say, she didn't get any sleep before the 3 a.m. call-time on the first day. "When you think of film you think, 'Oh it's so exciting and sexy,' but it's a lot of work. It really pushes you to the limit both creatively and physically," says Jenny.

One of the most important creative forces behind the film is lead actor and action director Johnny Tri Nguyen.

Johnny's action credentials go back pretty far, and include stunt work on a little movie called "Spiderman 2." As the stunt industry is still fairly new in Vietnam, he's brought his favorite stunt team over from Thailand. They rehearsed with Johnny and Ngo Thanh Van, his co-star, for three months before shooting began.

Johnny says the action in "Clash", which is contemporary, is very different from the more balletic, performance-style martial arts of Dong mau anh hung (The Rebel), which was set in the 1930's. "The fight sequences are very modern. A lot of kickboxing, ground fighting, street fighting, very raw, very realistic."

The fighting style has made an impression on Jenny, who says, "Watching the practice videos you almost stop breathing because it's just non-stop."

As cinematographer, Dominic Perreira has responsibility for creating the look and the style of the film. Dom brings a depth of experience in image-making, having also worked on "The Rebel" and Luu Huynh's Ao lua Ha Dong (The White Silk Dress). He is creating a very distinct visual style for "Clash."

Because the film deals with the dark, seedy underworld of crime, he says, he chose green as the dominant color of the film as it is the color of "decay and corruption," while blue, the supporting color, is "cold, barren and soulless." Dom says they are striving not to represent a "real Vietnam," but a "surreal Vietnam" that has a larger-than-life, comic book sensibility.

He stresses, though, that however creative his ideas, his job is collaborative. His decisions must fall within the confines of the director's vision.

"As cinematographer I'm here to support. I want to serve the vision, because only the director can know truly how the whole picture is coming together."

Le Thanh Son, the director, is at the center of it all, pulling the pieces together. He keeps the whole film in his mind, understanding how each department must play its role to fulfill his vision.

Though Son is a first-time director, he's no greenie. A silver award (Vietnam Golden Kite Film Awards) winner for short film in 2004, Son has gained much experience as assistant director on films like "The Rebel" and "The White Silk Dress."

He has what it takes, says Jenny.

"He sees the movie in his head. He's a very good communicator, he knows how to articulate what he wants. And he trusts the department heads.

"Of course the director has to have a vision and they have to know what they're doing, but if they don't trust in the other departments and really make it a collaboration, it falls apart."

Tawny, the producer, is happy with everyone's work so far. She is confident this collaboration will be a success. Not only is the production team of very high quality, Son's talent as director will give the film a depth, and a popularity, that it would not otherwise have.

"Son has a really good sense for taking the story to a deeper level. That's why we think the film will not only serve the action audience, but it will have another emotional level that will appeal to a lot of people.

"I think it's a very special project."

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