Ngo Thanh Van
Ambition for Vietnamese films to ‘go global'
Hanoi (VNA) – Producer, actress Ngo Thanh Van (Veronica Ngo) calls herself a workaholic who wants to bring Vietnamese films to the world. Because of that, the talented actress has become a “tough chick” in the eyes of her co-workers.
“At the company or on the set, many people still call me ‘Ngo Thi Hanh’ (‘Hanh’ means to bedevil),” Van said.
Van has not only a strong passion but also great ambition for cinema with clever thinking.
That’s not the reason...
“Has the action star become... tired?”
Reporter: You said that “Hai Phuong” (Furie, directed by Le Van Kiet) will be the last action movie you starred in the leading role. Is it because you’ve got tired of fighting scenes?
Ngo Thanh Van: That’s not the reason. If I’m tired, I will take a break to recharge my battery. It’s also not because I’m afraid that my image as an action actress is becoming old and boring.
In fact, I want to focus my energy on the role of a film producer.
Reporter: How was the role of a producer so attractive that you decided to turn down casting invitations from Holywood projects, instead of continuing pursuing fame and career of an actress?
Ngo Thanh Van: As a producer, I can provide more support to young filmmakers. Before becoming an actress, I used to be a fashion model and a singer. After over 20 years in showbiz, I know clearly how fierce the competition in this industry is.
Success should be built by one’s ability and hard-work. But I believe if a person is given good advice and support, his/her path to success will be shorter. Talented people wouldn’t struggle to seek their way or shape their style and thus, they would get a big break more easily.
In the past, I used to be torn between “to stay” and “to leave.” Between 2006 and 2007, I had the opportunity to join some Holywood film projects. They were really good chances that enabled me to gain experiences and learn from advanced film-making technologies from foreign countries.
For each project, I had to leave Vietnam in three to six months. Foreign directors and producers were very tough with high discipline at work. They didn’t accept any neglect or lack of attention from actors. So that, if I continued to go that way and look for similar opportunities, I wouldn’t have much time for Vietnamese cinema.
I had to make my choice. So after “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and “Bright,” I decided to stop and spend all my time on Vietnamese movies.
Reporter: Is it really the whole reason for your choice? Or because of another reason, like there are more opportunity for you to make changes and achieve new success in Vietnam?
Ngo Thanh Van: Yes, it is also an important reason. I don’t like to think about something in the past and assume that if I decided this way, then it would have been that way. But, obviously, if I chose to “stay,” there couldn’t be Ngo Thanh Van like today – “greedy” and also “ambitious” – in various roles – actress, director and producer.
Transforming from an actress to a director and a producer has given me many exciting experiences. I knew my greatest strength, what I want and what I need. When I first started as a director, a role often played by men, many became skeptical and even uncomfortable working with me. I have talked to them, tell them about my ideas, and sort out our issues.
I also wanted to prove that anything a man can do, a woman can do too. In both life and work, I don’t like using terms “phai manh” (stronger gender or male) and “phai yeu” (weaker gender or female) because no one is weak. Everyone has his/her own strength and energy. The only thing is how we can inspire it and let it grow.
Reporter: As an action star, how do you use your inner energy?
Ngo Thanh Van: Many people said I tortured myself but I’m happy about what I’m doing. I can’t let myself remain passive, I want to always be proactive and make the most of my energy. There were times I thought I even used more than 100 percent of my energy, like when I was filming “Hai Phuong.”
The film tells a single mom’s thrilling journey to save her daughter from a trans-border kidnapping and organ trafficking gang. It has seven major fighting scenes and many other small ones. All the scenes seem to happen in just one day but it took about six weeks on the set, about 18 hours a day.
I got hurt a lot and had to take pain relief. But I couldn’t pause the filming to take a rest because I wasn’t only the main actress but also the producer. If I did so, it would affect the entire crew. We would loose money for any day off and our budget wasn’t enough to do so.
Moreover, my principle is always setting a target higher than your capacity. I see it as a goal to achieve.
If you always want peace, you never get a big break...
Accepted to be ‘stoned’
Reporter: Is it the way you put your energy into Vietnamese cinema like you said?
Ngo Thanh Van: It’s true! I want to win back audiences for Vietnamese cinema and to show them that the Vietnamese films have their own values and Vietnamese filmmakers have their own strengths and paths. As a filmmaker, I couldn’t help feeling sad to see today audiences, particularly young people, prefer foreign movies and idolise directors, actors and characters from America or the Republic of Korea. I always dream that Vietnamese films will be able to compete at the same award categories (with foreign films), named at prestigious film festivals and internationally recognised.
Because of that, my dream is not to succeed as a director. This job is consuming too much of my time. You know, “Tam Cam: The Untold Story” took two years of my life. I want my works to be different so it takes a lot of time and effort.
Moreover, I am a perfectionist so I don’t accept any mistake, even small. If I find a tiny mistake, even when it’s in the 89th minute and it’s soon to complete, “Ngo Thi Hanh” is just willing to ask her team to start over. Whereas in such period of time, I can seek funding for four other movies to be made.
When we have a team of well-trained, oriented filmmakers who had the opportunity to be involved in multiple projects and access the world’s modern film-making technologies, of course, we can hope for a brighter future of the Vietnamese cinema.
Reporter: So, what were your strategies to create differences when promoting your films overseas?
Ngo Thanh Van: To confidently step out into the world, Vietnamese cinema needs to be properly developed and first of all, it must be a competitive industry domestically. It isn’t something Ngo Thanh Van or anyone else can do alone, it requires the power of a team. Just like, we need a good team to make a good movie, we can’t just rely on one director, or one screenwriter, or one actor.
For me, I always do my best and get ready to confront any challenge, even being “stoned” (bullied). If you always want peace, you never get a big break.
Though I grew up in Norway, my family always told me that I had to remember I’m a Vietnamese. Hence, my films always feature things showing Vietnamese identity. We have a wealth of resources (cuisine, history, traditional culture...) which can be featured on the big screen. Movie is a good channel to promote a country’s culture, nature and people.
In fact, all my movies have gone this way, to some extent. “Tam Cam: The Untold Story” is based on a famous folktale that conveys profound lessons and philosophies of Vietnamese people. Meanwhile, stories about the art of “cai luong” (reformed opera) and “ao dai” (Vietnamese traditional gown) have been presented in “Song Lang” and “Co Ba Sai Gon.”
Even in action movie “Hai Phuong,” the Vietnamese culture and identity are also clearly presented on the scenes or through the costumes. It presents not only the maternal love and family ties but also a beautiful Vietnamese woman in “ba ba” (Southern traditional shirt for women) who are very brave, with fires in her eyes, when facing the kidnappers.
Of course, material is not everything. But from such source of precious raw materials, we have to know how to cook and spice it up and seek support from technology. Sophistication, creativity and flexibility of a screenwriter, a director and an actor will create a touching story. But to create excellent visual effects for the film, we need the help of technology. To take a long path and go global, we have to nicely combine all the above aspects.
Reporter: Taking the role as a “female general” now, what are your strategies for the future?
Ngo Thanh Van: It is not good if a movie, no matter how good and beautiful it is, doesn’t have audience. I asked myself to get balanced among many factors. I still have to look towards the audience and learn what they want to see. Besides, to create differences, I want me and my team to produce trend-setting and inspiring movies.
Reporter: Besides beauty, talent, bravery, toughness, determination and ambition, is there any other word to portray you?
After a stressful time at work, I’m still a woman with many feminine hobbies like shopping. Though I have quite a good physical health of an “action” actress, but sometimes, I wished to be stronger like a man so that I can do more things...
It is just a wish, I still love myself at the present: strong, firm and bold at work but also flexible in daily life.
Reporter: Thank you for your time!