Over a glass of cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese milk coffee), Chang shared that she has always had an affinity for horror films. On one hand, she’s looking for the joy stemming from being scared; on the other, she’s researching the ways the production uses makeup to generate fear.
“Once I’ve liked something, I will always like to dive deeper to make sure that I’ll be able to do it,” she added.
Her experience, and also her team’s, at the moment, can be seen most clearly in the series Hellbound Village from producer Hoàng Quân and filmmaker Trần Hữu Tấn. Based on the bestselling period horror novel from Thảo Trang, the 12-episode series is about a village in the northern mountains of Vietnam facing karmic annihilation as the new year rolls around. Chang and her team’s efforts have been positively received in many write-ups and social reactions; some would even say that it’s the series’ brightest highlight.
The series also got assistance from makeup artist Kim B for the Fire Wolf form of the old cripple character.
Vietcetera got to sit down with Chang upon realizing that she will also work on The Soul Reaper, the upcoming feature film that is the prequel to Hellbound Village. Here are the neat things we collected about her days working on the set and her journey in the field during our hour-long chat.
Take us on the journey that turned you into a makeup artist.
I began doing this in 2009 when I was 24 years old. At first I wanted to study makeup just to know how to beautify, nothing cinema-related. Then, a friend of mine who worked in the makeup department for television — the Vietnamese version of the Korean series You and I — said she needed an extra hand and I offered my help. I got to work on a period film project next, and upon discovering that there were plenty of new things to try and do, I found cinematic makeup most fascinating. I sought out the third project on my own. It doesn’t matter whether a project is big or small, I find that all films need makeup. If you’re not doing wounds, then you’re deaging actors, et cetera.
I think I mixed makeup with horror as I fell in love with seeking out the goriest clips from films — parts that would be cut out in theaters — and from there thinking about how they did the effects. In 2020 before the pandemic, I had a lot of free time, so I signed up for a few clay modeling workshops, playing around with silicon and latex. Some friends also gave me extra guidance.
How did you become a part of the Hellbound Village movie project?
I was working on another feature film project, it was quite tiring. Every night, I’d come home with my hands covered in fake blood— special effects blood, to be exact (laughs). But I reminded myself that this would be my last horror project. But then I fell in love with the scripts of Hellbound Village. I then made it my last horror project (laughs).
To be honest, I always think that whatever project I’m working on is my last so I can work to my best, to my fullest. My friends would tease me, “So, is this your last project?” I know I’m putting pressure on myself, by the way!
I find that Hellbound Village wasn’t only challenging, but also a project with so much work to do! But thanks to that, the experience was exceptional and different. My pre-production work for this was lengthy since I wanted all my creations to be distinct.
What were your memorable moments working on the series and its feature-length prequel, The Soul Reaper?
Making fake blood and wounds for this series was more manageable than making those inflamed lymph nodes for the character Hạch! (laughs). I wanted the nodes to be attached in a way that none of the outlines could be seen. I also had to consider their colors so they could look convincing. There was also how they must be prominent, but their placement must be logical and wouldn’t affect the actress’ looks so much.
I also had to do a lot of continuity checks for Hach for many days to make sure the nodes were the same. Every day the actress got on set, I’d attach new nodes from new molds onto her face. These were made ahead of time; I couldn’t make fresh, on-set ones since there wouldn’t be consistency. This saved a lot of time for me and my team.
Work for Madam Lam also had its own fun and challenges. Although the character was set to turn demonic in her final scenes, I wanted to create a look that viewers could still recognize her human form… if only scarier-looking.
In a way, working on both Hellbound Village and The Soul Reaper helped me conquer my fears! I have trypophobia, but then there were so many bumps and holes to make in the latter! But if I was not to do research and look at things straight-on, then I couldn’t do the work. There were moments across both projects where I would be startled at my own creations.
How was your team throughout?
Since we have worked together for quite a while, I felt that for this we moved quite fast. We’d only need to trade glances or write quick texts and we were good to go! There were four, five people with me during pre-production of Hellbound Village; there were five when on set. All of us would sculpt and model the silicone beforehand so that all we’d need to do when we came on set was to glue things onto the actors.
The longest time we had to work was four hours — directly applying makeup onto the actor playing Mama Vien. I felt fortunate because we all understood each other quickly, and we got things done without spending too much time. My team could work on a task, and then I did the final checks.
What are some ways Vietnamese cinema makeup artists can enhance their skills?
I feel there’s a shortage of specialized, professional institutions teaching special effects makeup in Vietnam. We do have makeup workshops, but teaching and studying makeup for brides is very different from that for films and series. Students need to be prepared to understand the characters, to read scripts, and to analyze the characters.
We haven’t even mentioned more advanced forms of makeup. Now this depends on many factors, but some friends and I would like to open a class to get people to understand things better and get on the right track.
We also have a supply issue. Every time I buy makeup supplies, I store them in large quantities; when I’m between projects, I’ll get them out to play around with them. If I have to wait until I have a project to buy supplies, I will not have them in time. There are items that will become very costly if you rush-order them, and there are items I will have to wait for a while because they are prohibited from being on planes. Another disadvantage of buying in bulk is some of the things will go bad and be unusable because they have dried out or liquefied.
The works of Chang Belevia and her team will be seen in two upcoming projects: the creature features Móng Vuốt and a yet-announced horror production from the creators of Hellbound Village & The Soul Reaper.