Director Bảo Nguyễn’s Reflections On Asian American Identity | Vietcetera
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Apr 20, 2024

Director Bảo Nguyễn’s Reflections On Asian American Identity

Director Bảo Nguyễn remarked, “When exploring a new place, you often notice the beauty that locals may overlook. As a result, familiarity can sometimes hide the beauty that surrounds us.“
Director Bảo Nguyễn’s Reflections On Asian American Identity

Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

Bảo Nguyễn, a Vietnamese-American director, received attention for his debut documentary Live from New York! at the 2015 Tribeca Festival. He further solidified his reputation with Be Water, a film depicting Bruce Lee’s life, and his latest work, the documentary The Greatest Night in Pop.

The film depicting the creation of the iconic song We Are The World received numerous positive reviews and reached the top spot globally on Netflix in February of this year.

In this episode of the Have A Sip podcast, Bảo Nguyễn discussed the inspiration and process behind his film productions. He emphasizes the importance of representing Asian Americans and their cultural voice. Throughout the conversation, his demeanor varied, demonstrating strength and flexibility in changing scenarios.

Embracing joy in the filmmaking process

Director Bảo Nguyễn shared that challenging projects like the MV Don’t Make it Complicated, in collaboration with singer Tlinh, can easily lead to exhaustion. Nevertheless, with time, he reflects on these projects joyfully and hopes to approach them differently.

It’s important to enjoy the process of working and feel content even when it’s tough. | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

He suggests that setting goals like “I’ll be happy once this project is done” or “My life will be complete when I buy this house” can create a paradox: If you achieve the goal, does happiness cease? Instead, Bảo Nguyễn views happiness as a journey rather than a final destination.

He extends this philosophy to his filmmaking approach. During the process of creating a film, he avoids setting high expectations for the outcome, including how the audience will respond or critique the final product. Instead, he focuses on giving his best effort and completing the project. Afterward, he takes a step back, gives himself some time to rest, and then evaluates the film with a more objective perspective.

In his attempt to craft compelling narratives, Bảo Nguyễn places great emphasis on the connection between his films and the audience. He believes that a film transcends being solely the story of its main character once it’s viewed; each audience member adds their own experiences and interpretations, essentially co-authoring the movie in their imagination. Thus, he strives for his films to evoke empathy and inspire new perspectives in viewers long after they’ve watched them.

Imperfection makes things perfect

Director Bảo Nguyễn takes a unique approach to brainstorming film ideas: he begins with what might seem impossible. When faced with an idea others dismiss as lacking potential, he sees it as an opportunity. From these unconventional starting points, he often finds the inspiration to shape a new film in his mind.

His filmmaking style resembles assembling a final product from scattered glass or clay pieces - items that may appear random or unremarkable. | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

As choices proliferate in our lives, the quest for perfection becomes increasingly alluring. Yet, Director Bảo Nguyễn posits that the imperfect elements ultimately form a perfect whole. He extends this philosophy to romantic relationships, where people frequently strive for an ideal love tale or flawless marriage.

Yet, he believes emotional breakdowns can lead to a richer and more nuanced present. He also hinted that his future projects will delve further into themes of honesty and imperfection.

Before starting with “How,” ask “Why”

Bảo Nguyễn is an Asian-American filmmaker who garnered increased recognition with his work on Be Water, a film centered around the iconic Asian-American figure Bruce Lee. Through projects like this, he aims to contribute to the representation of his community, foster a deeper understanding of cultural diversity, and instill a sense of national pride.

That catalyzed his filmmaking journey. Rather than just crafting a good movie, Director Bảo Nguyễn first contemplates questions like, “Why is it important to share the stories of Asian American individuals?” or “Why do we need a director from this community to tell those stories?”

His childhood experiences allowed him to reflect and find inspiration for filmmaking. | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

In the movie “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” the character Mystique, portrayed by actress Jennifer Lawrence, had a few lines in Vietnamese. This gesture sparked excitement among the director’s students in Vietnam, who felt acknowledged by Hollywood.

When Hollywood embraced films that celebrated racial diversity, he recognized it as an opportune moment to share the stories of Asian American individuals. He also urged independent filmmakers in Vietnam to persevere, even as the film industry grew more challenging and complex.

He deeply admires the filmmaking spirit in Vietnam, particularly valuing the creativity, perseverance, and resilience displayed by local filmmakers in overcoming obstacles. Simultaneously, he aspires that through his own filmmaking journey, young filmmakers can envision their future selves and persistently pursue their dreams.

Translated by Thúy An

Watch the full episode here