Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview With Director Minh Duc Nguyen

Recently I was given a screener for a movie called 'Touch'. I will be reviewing the movie this week but first here is an interview with the film's director - Minh Duc Nguyen.
The official synopsis for the film follows: At V.I.P. Nails, a Vietnamese manicurist named Tam has a new customer: Brendan, a shy mechanic who literally has a problem on his hands. He can never get rid of the oil stains around his nails, and when he tries to be intimate with his aloof wife, she always rejects him with the same excuse: “Your hands are filthy!” Desperately seeking to save his marriage, Brendan goes to the nail salon every day, where Tam does more than scrub his hands clean. She also offers him advice on how to get his wife to love him again. But soon, Tam and Brendan find themselves drawn to each other, an attraction which becomes harder and harder to resist.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Touch?

A: Every Vietnamese in America knows someone who works in a nail salon. Over half of the nail salons in America are owned and operated by Vietnamese. The nail salon industry has provided countless job opportunities for Vietnamese immigrants, but their stories have never been told on-screen. For the first time, we have a movie about the hidden life of Vietnamese women working in a typical nail salon, told from their point-of-views. I saw the nail salon as a perfect setting to tell a multicultural story, where the Vietnamese workers interact daily with their American customers that come from all walks of life.

The one thing that really fascinates me about manicurists is that they have to touch strangers' hands every single day and touching someone's hand is usually considered an intimate act in our society. My goal was to make a sensual film that explored the power of touch and its emotional impact on desire, pleasure and healing. I also wanted to touch on universal themes such as love and loss. The bond between two strangers, husband and wife, parents and child are examined. These are the things that all of us can relate to.

Q: This was your feature directorial debut, how does that feel?

A: It feels wonderful. After I graduated from USC Film School, for a long time I couldn't find anyone to finance my movie. It was just too expensive to make a movie ten years ago. Finally with the advance in digital video, I'm able to make my first film on a shoestring budget. I've waited a long time for this moment and there were times I thought it might not happen. But I'm really glad that it did.

Q: I thought that Porter Lynn gave a very strong performance, what was it like to work with her?

A: There were many memorial experiences in making this film, but if I had to choose one, it would be discovering Porter Lynn during the audition process. Touch is her first feature film and lead role. It was a joy working with Porter. She always came to the set highly prepared and she enjoyed every moment on the set. She told me she was really depressed on her days off. She just loves to act. I think she will pleasantly surprise audiences with her mature poise and unassuming strength in portraying Tam.

Q: How does it feel to have a film premiering at the Boston International Film Festival?

A: It feels great but also nerve-wracking to have my film premiering at the Boston International Film Festival. It's great because Boston is a lovely city and the audiences at BIFF are known to be very adventurous. That's why the lineup at BIFF is incredibly diverse, showing films not just from all over America but also from all over the world. Yet it's going to be tense for me because for the first time, I'm showing my film in front of a large audience. I hope I won't pass out.

Q: What kind of projects do you want to work on in the future?

A: I want to continue making personal films in my own style. I've learned so much from directing Touch, not just from what I did right but also from what I did wrong. I can't wait to apply those lessons on my next movie and hopefully become a better director.

Q: Are you working on anything currently?

A: I just finish writing the screenplay for my next film. It's a romantic horror...a new twist on the horror genre that I hope audiences will be moved and shocked by its story at the same time.

Q: What are some things you’ve worked on in the past?

A: I've made short films. I've written short stories. Some of them are published in journals and anthologies. For the past several years, I've also worked as an editor for a variety of television shows that have aired on MTV, ABC, NBC, Bravo, Lifetime, USA, Spike and more.

Q: Who are your influences when it comes to writers and why?

A: For fiction, I'm heavily influenced by Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to name a few. They're just masters at their crafts and I just love their effortless writing style. For script writing, I admire Aaron Sorkin for his rapid-fire dialogue, Charlie Kaufman for his inventiveness, David Milch for his sublime feel for dialogue.

Q: Who are your influences when it comes to directors and why?

A: There are many directors that inspire me, but just to name three: Akira Kurosawa for making his films epic and personal at the same time, the late Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski for making these small intimate movies with metaphysical meanings, and Martin Scorsese for daring to portray the dark sides of humans in his movies.

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