Budding US filmmakers blossom in Vietnam

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A symbiotic relationship has emerged the Vietnamese film industry and Vietnamese-American professionals.

While the local industry has received a huge fillip from the Viet kieu (overseas Vietnamese) pros, who have brought in technology, expertise and investment, the latter have found a fresh, fertile market that has considerably boosted their careers and profiles.

Jimmy Nghiem Pham, managing director of the Chanh Phuong Film Company, has made a name for himself in the domestic industry and beyond with box office hits like Dong mau anh hung (The Rebel), 14 ngay phep (14 days) and Bay rong (Clash).

The 39-year-old graduated from California State University, with a degree film direction. But before coming here, he had only directed one film for his graduation project.

Jimmy took the role of production director first in "The Rebel", which was smash hit at local cinemas in 2007 and marked the beginning of his filmmaking career in Vietnam.

Since then, he has released at least one film every year.

His wife, Towny Truc Nguyen was also the co-producer of his first film. In the US, Towny had studied accounting. She only joined the film industry as her brothers, director Charlie Nguyen and "The Rebel" star Johnny Tri Nguyen wanted some assistance.

Jimmy and Towny had worked together on several entertainment projects for the Vietnamese community in the US.

The couple and their families have not only brought money and technology to the Vietnamese film industry, they've also drawn experienced filmmakers from the US, like award-winning director Ham Tran, soundtrack composer Christopher Wong and US cameraman Dominic Pereira.


Director Jimmy Nghiem Pham (R) and producer Towny Truc Nguyen with their two children

Jimmy said the romantic flick "14 Days", cost US$300,000 but only made $200,000, was an investment mistake by his company because it only suited a small group of people, overseas Vietnamese.

But they learned from the loss and their $800,000 "Clash" is still selling well, making Chanh Phuong one of the most prestigious studios in Vietnam.

Now all it has to do is put up a project and there are investors ready to take care of all the costs, Jimmy said.

Chanh Phuong is working on another action film with "The Rebel" cast, he revealed.

In Vietnam, be Vietnamese

Jenni Trang Le, 31, has only lived in Vietnam for two years but has participated in the making of seven Vietnamese films.

An anthropology graduate from UCLA, her initial goals had nothing to do with filmmaking.

But Jenni learned on the job while helping her friend, director Ham Tran.

In 2004, she went to Vietnam and was invited to be deputy director for "The Rebel", and then for Cu va chim se se (The owl and the sparrow). But Jenni was still traveling back and forth between Vietnam and the US, where she found another job.


Poster of the film Cu va chim se se (The owl and the sparrow), of which Jenni Trang Le is the deputy director

In 2008, Chanh Phuong asked her to get involved full-time in filmmaking and Jenni decided to try it for one year. It's been three years now and she has been invited to work on so many projects by different producers that she has never thought about returning to the US.

Jenni said she wants to become a film director, but also asserted she would not study it in the US.

She intends to join courses in Vietnam, watch more local films and live in the country to make films that are authentically Vietnamese.

TV hay days

Le Van Kiet, another Viet kieu film graduate, returned to Vietnam last year to work in television. He was invited by Tri Viet Media to make a TV series for HTV3.

TV shows in Vietnam are enjoying a boom and it won't last forever, said the 33-year-old director whose Cuoi duong bang (At the end of the runway), a 50-episode series about the modeling and fashion industries in Vietnam, is being aired on Ho Chi Minh City Television, channel HTV3.

While working on the show, Kiet brought in two deputy directors and three cameramen who used to work in the US.

Kiet himself used to work for Nippon Herald Films, the distributor of many New Line and Miramax productions.

The University of California graduate said he wants to concentrate on telefilms at the moment, since they are in high demand, but he is also preparing to make a feature film sometime this year.

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