HOLLYWOOD — Tony Bui, who left Saigon for the Silicon Valley at the age of 2, fell into film by chance, discovering movies in high school. His passion was abetted by his father’s abrupt career shift. Laid off by the local Memorex plant, his father opened a chain of video stores. “I had 50,000 movies at my disposal,” Bui says. “I watched everything I could.”
Bui fed his passion at Loyola Marymount University, where courses in European cinema and the “Fifth Generation” Chinese filmmakers radically changed his sense of cinema. Then, at age 19, Bui returned to Vietnam, where he found the issues and themes that characterize his work.
He shot the short film “Yellow Lotus” on a subsequent trip, and then wrote “Three Seasons,” a feature script revolving around three underclass Vietnamese characters struggling for identity as their country shifts from socialism to capitalism.
The screenplay was workshopped at Sundance and garnered widespread praise. Last fall, the upcoming October release shot on location for two months in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) with Bui at the helm, the first American film shot in Vietnam since the war.
Bui, who modestly deflects attention from his skills as a writer, says he begins with an idea or theme, and builds a story from there. “The most important thing for me is the point that I want to make,” says the 25-year-old filmmaker. “Then I start writing scenes here and there, finding an overall structure as the script evolves.”
“Three Seasons” is in post-production and is expected to premiere at Sundance.