By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Actor Dustin Nguyen wanted a role that was “light and sort of fun” after playing a mentally challenged martial artist in the 2009 film “The Legend is Alive.”
In January 2009, the Vietnamese American star of the TV shows “21 Jump Street” and “Seaquest DSV” got exactly what he wanted. He wrote the screenplay for and co-produced his latest independent film, “Fool for Love.”
A romantic comedy, “Fool for Love” will have a limited theatrical release in downtown Seattle from Oct. 1 through Oct. 14 at the Regal Meridian 16. “[That wouldn’t] have happened had we not had the online support from our friends and the community in Seattle,” said Nguyen.
Other stops along its national tour include Orange County, San Jose, Dallas, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.
Nguyen stars as Dũng, a bathroom attendant at a five-star hotel, who falls in love.
Dung becomes a fool for love when he quits his job in order to pursue Mai, played by Kathy Uyen, a single, attractive woman with aspirations to become a famous singer.
“They meet, and there’s a spark there,” said Nguyen.
Dung finds Mai working at a beach resort. With very little money to spend, he agrees to move in and work for Hoi, played by Thai Hoa, a gay businessman who is seeking male companionship, but more importantly, also looking for love.
Nguyen points out that “Fool for Love” also looks at the friendship between a straight man and a gay man.
He said, “That relationship is, actually to me, more the heart of the film. Through Hoi, my character learns a lot about love and what it really means to love somebody.”
He hopes his audiences, especially “historically conservative Vietnamese audiences,” will accept the gay character as more than just the film’s funny man.
From the very beginning of the film’s U.S. tour on Sept. 10 and even at its world premiere in Vietnam earlier in April, Nguyen is happy to report that his interaction with audience members has confirmed that they have, saying, “There’s heart behind these characters that [audiences] seem to respond to.”
Dung is based on a particular blue-collar guy whom Nguyen met in Vietnam and befriended. While hanging out with this guy, Nguyen said, “A beautiful girl walks by and he, basically, just said, ‘Wow. You know, a girl like her is totally out of my reach.’ ”
“And, of course, my immediate American upbringing reflex is ‘Hey, why not? What do you mean out of your reach? There’s no such thing.’ ”
So, Nguyen decided to write a comedy about how some men, who struggle to make ends meet, feel they “can never attain love on that level.”
“I had a vague idea to investigate love in modern-day Vietnam,” added Nguyen. “In a society where there’s extremely fast growth and everyone has a desire for nice things, in a society like that, where does love fit in?”
Director Charlie Nguyen (no relation to Dustin) also serves double duty as Dung’s rival, Antoine, a rich hotel manager who’s able to give Mai a secure future with unlimited money, the most luxurious things that money can buy, and the possibility of becoming a world-famous singer.
“Is she going to go with true love, or is she going to go with security?” asked Dustin Nguyen.
“Dustin is a veteran actor. Working with him was a breeze,” summed Charlie Nguyen. “So, there wasn’t much for me to do.”
“Fool for Love,” he says, explores possessive and sacrificial love. “It’s nothing new, but every time you hear it, you’re surprised by it.”
The film is the second collaboration between the Nguyens. With a blend of drama, history, and martial arts, “The Rebel” was their first project in 1997. Both films were shot in Vietnam.
“Fool for Love” is Dustin Nguyen’s fourth feature film shot in various cities throughout Vietnam and features international as well as local film professionals behind the scenes. Dominic Pereira, the film’s director of photography who grew up in Singapore, worked with Charlie Nguyen on “The Rebel.”
In between his acting jobs, Dustin and his wife, Angela Rockwood-Nguyen, serve as spokespersons for the Paralysis Resource Center’s Minority Communities Outreach Campaign. His wife was involved in a car crash in 2001, a week before Sept. 11, and she suffered a spinal cord injury.
Nguyen’s most important message, “Paralysis is not the end of life, and you can have a fulfilled, good quality of life even though you are physically challenged.”
He continued, “Especially in the Asian American community, they tend to see it as a disability versus something that can empower you to achieve things.”
When it comes to “Fool for Love,” Nguyen wants his audiences to walk away with this message: “When you love someone, sometimes it’s probably a good idea to think what would be good for them.”
“Perhaps you might want to think about what makes them happy.” ♦
For more information about “Fool for Love,” visit de-mai-tinh.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.