Honoring Vietnamese American Filmmaker Ham Tran

"It wasn't until I started making films that explore each of the two cultures in which I grew up that I discovered that cultural diversity is strength, not a weakness."

CAAM is thrilled to honor filmmaker Ham Tran at this year’s CAAMFest. We are shining this spotlight on one of the veteran Vietnamese American filmmakers. We’ve had the honor to showcase two of his films as our Opening Night feature: Journey from the Fall (’06) and How to Fight in Six Inch Heels (’13).

This year, Tran is back with two films: the action-packed Bitcoin Heist, and the date night film, She’s the Boss. Tran, currently in Vietnam, is already working on another film there. We caught up with him via email, where he shares his thoughts on the Vietnamese film industry, Asian American representation, and more.

-Momo Chang

What is your favorite moment at CAAMFest?
I have many favorite moments at CAAMFest, but I’d have to say the year Six Inch Heels opened the festival. Being at the historic Castro Theater, sharing the laughter with the cast, my wife and her family by my side and the audience in the 1,500 seat house was unforgettable.

What is the Vietnamese film industry like today, and how has it changed in the past years?
In just about four years, the film industry has tripled in its output of films per year. In 2012, there were about 20 films released theatrically. In 2016, there were 64 films. Of course, with any explosion of growth, there comes instability. Last year, for example, was completely unpredictable. Out of the 64 films released, only 3 were considered a “big hit,” though the box office did not compare to that of 2015, where films hit 100billion VND ($5million US) in domestic gross. The challenge as we begin 2017 is to win back the audience’s faith in Vietnamese films. It’s a call to action for filmmakers to ensure that Vietnamese films not only look good, but also tell an engaging story, be it comedy, action, horror, or fantasy. However, the fact that there are now a wider range of genre films being made in Vietnam is a sign of better things to come.

How does it feel to have a CAAMFest spotlight on you?
It’s a great honor and a shock, because I had only hoped that my films made the selection at CAAMFest. At the same time, it’s quite a relief, because I suddenly had the realization that I have now been working and living in Vietnam for four years, after making Six Inch Heels! I was just telling my great friend and producer, Anderson [Le], that I hope I don’t fall out of touch with the Asian American filmmaking community. It’s the reason I still try to incorporate elements of my bilateral culture in every film, to have equal parts American and Vietnamese sensibilities. I’m so grateful to CAAMFest to bring me back to share Bitcoin Heist and She’s The Boss.

Where do you see Asian American media in 10 years?
Compared to 10 years ago, it’s great that we now have much more Asian American representation on TV, from Fresh Off the Boat, to Dr. Ken, to Scorpion, and even on Netflix with Ali Wong’s own comedy special. The hope is the same can be said about feature films. Asian Americans are at best cast in supporting roles, if at all. For my part, even though I’ve been making my films in Asia, I am still casting Asian males in lead roles, and portraying Asian males in a more positive light. I think the struggle exists even working in Vietnam. Finding a Vietnamese male lead in his late 20s to mid 30s is digging in the sand for gold.

Do you have any advice for Asian American storytellers?
My advice for Asian American storytellers is to remind them of their Asian community, there is so much more support within the community then they can imagine. When I started film school, I felt that because I am a refugee, an Asian-hyphen-American, it was harder to find my place and my voice. It wasn’t until I started making films that explore each of the two cultures in which I grew up that I discovered that cultural diversity is strength, not a weakness. When you are Asian American, you have both communities’ support.

What project or projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently researching and writing a script called, Thien Linh Cai (Shaman), which is a Vietnamese thriller with horror elements, inspired by the true events of the first reported serial killer in Vietnam. I think it’s good to stay balanced by switching between making a serious film and fun film. She’s the Boss is a good example of doing a fun and simple film after exhausting myself on a complex and technically taxing film as Bitcoin Heist.

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This interview is made possible by Comcast.

She’s the Boss

Alamo Drafthouse
March 12, 2017 8:35 pm

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