Song Lang is a formulaic film and will not surprise viewers with its fiction-freshness. Although the work of the Vietnamese director, Leon Quang Le, is not exploratory in the dramatic layer – the world is presented as if perfectly tailored to the characters, consisting of convenient coincidences, expected-unexpected meetings and “programmed” temporality – it perfectly copes with the audiovisual layer, effectively building an original mood and unique atmosphere with a Vietnamese flavor.
The film by the Vietnamese artist is an aesthetic, romantic dream about the relationship of two men: debt collector, Dung, working for a local loan shark and actor of the traditional cai-luong opera, Linh-Phung. For the first time, their paths clash when Dung visits the theater to collect the owed debt. From now on, breaking the conflict between them, they will slowly build mutual understanding, affection, bond and trust.
Two heroes are seemingly different from each other. One gloomy and introverted, tough and violent, though not without human reflexes (he gently handles children, tries to help his neighbors, spends his free time playing retro video games). The other is a talented artist with a beautiful voice, although he cannot evoke emotions (“fall in love”, his artistic troupe advises him, saying that learning how to love will make him able to play it). Over time, they will discover that they really have a lot in common – sensitivity and personal relationship to art.
Leon Quang Le manages to relate his story to the patterns of Western melodramas without losing his own character. Not only is he not in a hurry to build relationships, focusing on building bonds, sour-sweet conversations and spending time together, but also by using subtle clues associated with the far-eastern neo-noir cinema. He mixes the colors of the 80s (e.g. songs popular at the time) and local specificity (sung theater, costumes, etc.). The space, although not really large, is colorful and vivid, and the musical arrangements are watched as a theatrical performance recording that was made with a sharp, clever eye.
Predictability and gentleness become the asset of Song Lang. Two sensitive boys, one would say, don’t have to cross cultural boundaries. Their relationship will remain pure and innocent to the end. The director gracefully shows male love full of delicate – immature, boyish, but attractive – sexual tension, which in other conditions could be considered forbidden. This ordinariness, innocence and schematicity act universalizing, ensuring that the main condition of positive reception of Song Lang will not be one or other view on the issue of gender, but – simply – sensitivity.