90 minutes, in Vietnamese with English subtitles
Directed by: Victor Vu
Starring: Midu O, Huynh Dong, Khuong Ngoc, Van Trang
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Thursday, July 12 @ 9pm (buy tickets)
Over the past decade, a wave of Vietnamese American filmmakers have returned to the motherland to help rebuild the booming, local entertainment industry. From Ham Tran’s Journey From the Fall (a huge hit in America, supported entirely by Vietnamese-American audiences), to Charlie Nguyen’s The Rebel (a martial arts spectacular at NYAFF 2008), these directors have mixed technical polish and Vietnamese material with explosive results. Victor Vu, raised in Los Angeles, is currently the most prolific and successful of these directors. His previous film, the whacked-out romantic comedy, Battle of the Brides, broke box-office records last year.
BLOOD LETTER, his latest film, is an ambitious and sprawling stab at kiem hiep (Vietnamese for the sword fighting genre). Adapted from a popular novel by Bui Anh Tan, the film begins with the Le Chi Vien massacre, leaving a young boy as the only survivor of the Nguyen Trai family, who is found by a monk. In the best cinematic tradition, the monk raises the kid and trains him in martial arts. The boy becomes an adult with great fighting skills, as well as a new name, Tran Nguyen Vu. After he is told of his family’s history, Nguyen Vu sets out on a vengeful journey to clear his family’s name. Along the way, he meets another seeking revenge: Hoa Xuan, a sword-wielding lady warrior. They join forces and seek revenge against the very ones that framed their families for crimes they didn’t commit: the royal family! This can only end with a whole lot of stabbing.
Shot throughout Vietnam, BLOOD LETTER is one of the most beautifully lensed films to come out of that country, with breathtaking shots of crystal clear lakes and green, majestic mountains, and the driving musical score gets the blood pounding in your ears. The sleek fight choreography was designed and directed by action star Johnny Tri Nguyen (The Rebel, Clash) and the result is Vietnam’s very first kiem hiepfilm. BLOOD LETTER was released during the recent Tet holidays (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), where it packed movie theaters for weeks and presented locals with a fantasy version of Vietnam, where sword play is abundant, historical costumes are opulent, and the main characters are true heroes.