Vietnamese-American director Leon Le grew up obsessed with the dream to become a Vietnamese folk opera (cải lương) performer. He and his family moved to the United States when he was 14, and he took his opera memorabilia – cassettes, albums, photos – with him in case he needed to re-create the art form in the US. He had a 20-year career as a musical theater performer in New York before returning to Vietnam to create this, his first feature film.
Set in 1980s Saigon, Song Lang was inspired by a true story of a real-life gangster (Năm Cam) with an appreciation for the arts who helped bankroll cải lương shows. Linh Bien Phat stars as brutal debt collector Dung who crosses paths with opera leading man Linh Phung, played by Vietnamese pop star Isaac. As a labor of love, a love story, and a tribute to a beloved art form, Song Lang goes above and beyond, with songs written for the film and performed by the actors themselves. The result is a beautiful and intense story about the redemptive power of art.
– Lisa Aspinwall
Trigger Warnings – There are some scenes, particularly early in the film, that are quite brutal (lethal violence against children, for example). They are integral to the story but still upsetting to see.