Vietnamese filmmaker Le Binh Giang once punched Joel Edgerton, and he’s very proud of it.
Giang played a gangster who brawled with Edgerton’s main character in 2012’s “Wish You Were Here.” It’s a claim to fame he drops into the conversation while discussing his versatility as an artist.
Sat in a caffe at the Locarno Film Festival, Giang demonstrates the pretend right hook he delivered to the Australian actor’s jaw, laughing about the whole experience. A few years after that cameo, Giang released his debut feature “KFC,” a gore-fest about a cannibalistic, necrophiliac doctor. The film got him expelled from film school, but also propelled him to cult status in Vietnam.
Giang (pictured below) is currently developing his second outing, “Who Created Human Beings,” and is presenting it alongside producer Le Quynh Anh at Locarno’s Open Doors program.
Still in the late script phase, “Who Created Human Beings” is the story of policeman Sinh and his Catholic girlfriend Linh. After Linh becomes pregnant, she pressures Sinh into marrying her, but he is faced with a cruel dilemma as police officers in Vietnam are not allowed to fraternize with Christians, let alone marry them. At the same time, he has to deal with a series of gruesome female decapitation cases.
Le Quynh Anh, who also serves as Giang’s English translator in Locarno, says the characters and the plot are based on people the director knows very well.
“He had a best friend a few years ago who had a long-term girlfriend for 10 years who was Catholic, and her family wanted her to marry a Catholic guy, so they were forced to break up,” explains Anh. “On her wedding night, his friend committed suicide. He rode his bike onto the highway and his body was crushed. That was so violent, and the way this guy had no choice but to choose death haunted Giang for years. He felt it was very compelling to tell a story about someone who has no choice left but to die.”
The project aims to spark an important inter-generational conversation about the expectations that older parents place on their millennial children. Le Quynh Anh says many young Vietnamese feel “torn” by the religious and social rules their parents try to enforce.
Abortion and female empowerment are two more of the project’s themes, which also happen to be major talking points in Vietnam.
“For Giang, the pregnancy in this film represents the responsibility of women in Vietnamese society, what is forced onto women. With modernization, women are liberated, but not in Vietnam,” Anh says. “Women are still not supposed to live the way they want, that’s why they have their heads cut off in the film. They’re not supposed to have an identity.”
Although Le Binh Giang’s first film faced severe censorship in Vietnam due to its gory subject matter, the director says he is not worried about this new project facing similar issues.
“Who Created Human Beings” is scheduled to shoot in a Vietnamese mountain village during the height of the rainy season in 2022. Although a potential festival run would be nice, Giang is already known as being outspoken on taboo topics in his home country, so his main hope is for the project to receive as wide a release as possible when it comes to fruition.
“Giang doesn’t want to make an arthouse film for festivals only. In the end, the film is supposed to be with the audience, it belongs to the people, it doesn’t belong to the committee of any film festival,” explains Le Quynh Anh. “Personally, I feel it’s important for the Vietnamese to have a conversation between generations, so I feel it’s an important film to release in Vietnam also.”
When “KFC” played in small screens across Vietnam, Le Binh Giang stood outside the theaters and sold tickets himself. Having earned himself a reputation for being “the most independent filmmaker” in the country (he wrote, shot, directed and edited his debut feature), it seems inevitable that “Who Created Human Beings” will get off the ground, censorship and industry approval or no.