An amazingly well shot queer romance
Lang song ended up being one of the best shot movies I’ve seen in a long time. Yes, it’s not a happy queer story, but it’s still very enjoyable.
I was provided with a free screener of Lang song for evaluation. The opinions I have shared are my own.
Five minutes after watching the screener, I understood why director / writer Leon Le’s Lang song was able to win an impressive number of awards as well as garnering a positive response from the public. It’s not just that the acting (which I’ll get to in a moment) was captivating; in my opinion, every shot was perfect.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I watch a movie I think about how a scene could have been framed differently. Did the camera really need to give us a close-up of a character’s face? Couldn’t a particular shot be filmed from a different angle?
With Lang song, I had no such questions. For me, every shot has been masterfully captured. Did a scene between Dung ‘Thunderbolt’ (Lien Binh Phat) and Auntie Nga (Phuong Minh) to have to be filmed behind the bars of his office window? I think it had to be like that. Such a visual added an extra layer to show that Dung felt trapped in his profession.
Maybe I read too much? But I don’t care.
As for the premise of Lang song (the name of an instrument used in traditional Vietnamese music), the description reads as follows:
Set in 1980s Saigon, Song Lang is a gritty black underworld hiding a tender and romantic heart. At the heart of the film is the unlikely bond forging between Dung (Lien Binh Phat), a difficult debt collector for a ruthless loan shark, and Linh Phung (V-pop star Isaac), a charismatic young opera singer for a company performing Cai-Luong, a modern form of traditional Vietnamese folk opera.
The two meet when Dung forcibly collects a debt from the opera troupe, but when their paths cross again, a friendship develops, arousing surprising and tender feelings in the two men. With his feature debut, director Léon Le delivered a rich drama: a smoldering relationship between two apparent opposites – just as uncompromising – against the backdrop of a magnificent and declining art form.
The main characters Dung and Linh delivered the required emotional rhythms. I liked the way Dung felt a connection with Linh because of Dung’s past with Cai luong. He blamed the particular art form for destroying his family. Getting away from her passion led to a thug life for Aunt Nga.
Even when Dung beats people to make them pay off their loans, there is still kindness in his heart. He does not exaggerate with violence. The scene he shared with the two little girls was quite moving.
Meeting Linh helped Dung remember his childhood love for the arts and opened his eyes to another path forward. He no longer had to continue working for Aunt Nga. Plus, what happened to one family (because they couldn’t pay on time) really took its toll on him. Dung had to put an end to things.
With Linh around, Dung is able to slowly show his true personality while Linh is able to sense emotions that have helped him improve his art while performing on stage. There is definitely a romantic spark between the two, even though they couldn’t admit it to each other. Every scene where the male actors were together was full of nostalgia. I liked it.
The themes of artistic freedom, love, and karma are fairly evident throughout. Lang song. Given the time, artistic expression (from what I could understand) was censored. The content should focus on patriotism. There is state propaganda everywhere. Censorship caused Dung’s mother (an actress) to leave her family. In the current timeline, the Linh Theater Troupe was trying to provide an escape to the audience.
With karma being a big thematic element and even Linh saying being violent isn’t something to be proud of, I think the movie had to end the way it did. Offering a different ending would have been a loophole.
I’m not a fan of queer content that is all about being sad, but it worked for Lang song. This had to be done for thematic reasons. In a way, the real romantic tragedy wasn’t the one Linh showed on stage every night, it was the one that had happened between him and Dung outside the theater for a few days.
Also, I can’t end this review without mentioning Aunt Nga. I really liked how it was written. There were also nuances in his character. She was kind enough to take a young Dung under her wing, but she didn’t hesitate to use violence against those who had borrowed from her business. Her sentence about not forcing anyone to take a loan to her was quite powerful. And, in a way, she was right. People knew what they were getting into when they knocked on his door asking for financial help. She didn’t blame herself for their misfortunes.
Another thing I liked was the way Dung and Linh’s friends were written. Sadly, there are plenty of examples of queer movies where women have to deal with heartache when men go out. Lang song was different. Yes, Dung (bisexual, in my opinion) would go out with his friend sometimes, but they both knew it was an “unconditional” situation. So, Dung spending time with Linh was no problem for her.
Linh’s stage partner was also very supportive of him finding love. Thankfully, they haven’t shared any romantic stories to mess things up.
Hoping that more queer movies treat their wives better.
For those who are interested, Lang song released in Laemmle cinemas (virtually) on October 9, 2020. I highly recommend you check it out.
here is the link: https://www.laemmle.com/film/song-lang
Breaking glass images will Lang song available on DVD and Digital on November 11, 2020.
Again, I hope you are considering watching this movie.
Do not hesitate to let us know your impressions if you have already seen it!
Farid has a double master’s degree in psychology and biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in molecular genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville and The Game Master of Somerville. It gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime / manga, video games, and movies.
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