A melodrama, subtly told, about a love that becomes impossible, with a resolution in which the audience knows more than the characters.
The film is set in 80s Ho Chi Minh. Dung (Lien Binh Phat) is a ruthless enforcer for a debt collector. He meets Linh Phung (Isaac), the star of a Cai Luang opera, when he threatens to burn their costumes if they don´t pay up. They meet again when Linh Phung gets bullied in a bar and they both end up fighting the thugs. Linh Phung´s keys get lost and he ends up spending the night with Dung, playing video games, telling each other the story of their lives, and articulating a shared passion for music, and particularly Cai Luang, a type of popular opera that turns out to be a key to the past of both.
Song Lang, the title of the film, ostensibly refers to the percussion instrument used in Cai Luang. The percussion is supposed to guide the opera and its protagonists down a moral path in life. Ostensibly Song Lang translates literally into ´Two Men´. So here we have two characters, both played by local pop star phenomena, trying to find a moral path through a traumatic history, a shared love of art, the pursuit and abandonment of artistic purpose and drive, and the unfolding of elective affinities, a friendship of the heart, that is also imbued with incipient desire.
The feelings of the characters are expressed through opera (Cai Luang), very beautiful, full of feeling, expressing what the characters can´t. I love the showbiz milieu, the campiness of it, and it combines well with the harshness of the life depicted. The most striking thing about this film is the imagery, every composition is interesting, evocative, expressive. Both itself and also conveying mood, feeling. I was very moved by it. I like the way it melds flashback, comic books, video games, all to evoke a way of life, background, texture, the way that the characters are fleshed out, given histories. The two protagonists are meant for each other but can´t be. And one will never know how close it came to being, or what the other one really felt and did. A beautiful melodrama which brings to mind in different ways the best work of Wong Kar Wai and Richard Linklater.
LGBTQ audiences may have reservations about the end but I think the melodrama recquires it and I personally loved it. Moreover, Song Lang is a great film, one that will last, though you probably won´t get many opportunities to be seen on a big screen. See it while you can.
Playing as part of the Q-Film Weekender at the Northampton Playhouse