Bao Tran: Vietnamese-American Director with a Debut Film in Netflix's Top 10 | Vietcetera
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Jun 07, 2024

Bao Tran: Vietnamese-American Director with a Debut Film in Netflix's Top 10

Bao's film starts with an idea about how he felt old, out of shape, and just losing passion for the things he was once passionate about.
Bao Tran: Vietnamese-American Director with a Debut Film in Netflix's Top 10

Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

Bao Tran is a Vietnamese-American director who made waves with his debut feature film, The Paper Tigers, released in 2020.

The film quickly climbed into the top 10 on both Netflix and iTunes in the United States. It was listed by Collider as one of the Top 10 Best Action Comedy Movies of the 2020s. Rotten Tomatoes also ranks it among the Best Action Comedies and Best Asian American Movies ever made, awarding it a "Certified Fresh" rating.

Though Bao is newly successful as a film director, he was already known in Vietnam for his work as a film editor on two notable projects: Cho Lon by Charlie Nguyen and Jackpot by Dustin Nguyen. In this exclusive interview, we delve into the ever-blooming creative mind of talented director Bao Tran.

If you had a 2-minute trailer about how you got into filmmaking, which scenes would it include?

It would start with me watching movies as a child. I was born in the United States, and we enjoyed watching kung fu movies from Bruce Lee and TVB.

I love martial arts so much. So the trailer would include a scene where I do martial arts with my friends in the backyard. Sometimes we took my parents' video camera to film our little short films. And from that, I was able to go into the film business as a profession.

Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

Now that you have worked on films, are you doing it like a martial artist?

Martial arts has given me a passion for discipline. As Bruce Lee said, “Play, but play seriously.”

It's like Yin and Yang. If you're too much on the discipline side, then it becomes stiff. Nobody brings their own creativity to it. But if it's too much play, then it doesn't go anywhere. So I think it’s important to have both as a storyteller.

What is your first feature film, The Paper Tigers about?

The martial arts action comedy film is about three childhood kung fu prodigies who have grown into washed-up, middle-aged men. When their master is murdered, they must juggle their dead-end jobs and dad duties, and overcome old grudges to avenge his death.

Where did the idea come from?

It starts with an idea about how I felt old, out of shape, and just losing passion for the things I was really passionate about when I was younger.

So I thought it would be an interesting story. I called my old kung fu classmates, we went out drinking, and I asked them hypothetical questions I had in mind. That gave me a lot of inspiration and ideas.

What did The Paper Tigers expose about you?

Oh, it's funny. There are three martial arts brothers in the film, and they have different personalities. While we were filming, the actors asked me, "Which one is you?" And I said, "All of them." Because every part of these characters may be a little part of where I feel sometimes.

Source: The Paper Tigers

So when you are on set as a director, do you think you act like any kind of role model?

A cheerleader.

I feel like that's what I am for an actor because actors are the ones who put out the most. They're so vulnerable on the screen and the audience constantly judges them. It's very scary to be in that position. It's important to let them feel like they are doing a good job.

And what if your actors don't do it okay?

It's okay. That's my job to help them be able to do it for the next take or create an environment where they can do their best work.

How do you help them prepare for their performance?

A lot happens in preparation. Before we film, I talk to them about the scene and their characters so they can start preparing. Actors have their process, and you let them. But we ensure that we're on the same page and have the same idea about the scene and what we would like from the character.

Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

You are a director, a film editor and a writer. Which role is the closest to your natural one?

I think it's all connected to me. When you're writing, you're thinking about directing. When you're directing, you're also thinking about editing. And when you're editing, you're thinking about the writing. All those things are interconnected.

How do you rate your edits in Cho Lon and Jackpot?

10 out of 10 for both. I love the directors I worked with, Dustin and Charlie.

How would you describe your working experiences with Dustin Nguyen and Charlie Nguyen?

Dustin is really passionate about the actors because he's an actor himself, so he’s very careful about paying attention to the actors. And Charlie is very good about the story, making it exciting, and ensuring everyone's passionate about it. After working with them, I wanted to make The Paper Tigers because I thought it was time for me to direct.

What is your next plan?

I'm researching and thinking about new projects, possibly here in Vietnam and also in the United States. Hopefully, one day soon, my films can reach Vietnamese audiences.