Decades after fleeing, Vietnamese American filmmakers return to a changed country

Writer-director-actor Johnny Tri Nguyen in a scene from The Rebel (2007).

One recent morning in a French-style cafe, former San Jose resident Thien Do worked his mobile phone and iPad as he prepared for another day of casting actors for a dark comedy he’s directing.


Not far away, Dustin Nguyen, the co-star of the late 1980s TV crime drama “21 Jump Street,” was getting ready to roll the cameras for his next film, “Once Upon a Time in Vietnam.” And actor-writer-director Johnny Tri Nguyen from Orange County was in preproduction for his action film.


Nearly four decades after they fled the Communist takeover of South Vietnam, a small army of Californians — armed with cameras and scripts — have invaded the nation. Vietnamese-American filmmakers and actors, hoping to tap into a young population eager to be entertained by the big screen, have become a surprising artistic force in Vietnam’s emerging film industry.


“Every time I go to one of these industry gatherings, I see new faces,” Do said of the swarms of Viet Kieu, or “overseas Vietnamese,” filmmakers scouting locations and writing screenplays here.


Viet Kieu are now involved with at least half of the commercial films made in Vietnam — a stunning development considering that not long ago those who returned faced deep suspicion from the Communist government as well as opposition from staunch anti-Communists in San Jose and Orange County.

Read the full story by Mercury News Reporter John Boudreau here.

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