Directed By: Victor Vu (pictured above)
Writer-director Victor Vu has penned and directed 6 big screen adaptions. Some of his more recent works were Inferno, Spirits, and First Morning. Mr. Vu has won 2 notable awards with one being for a student film (Firecracker) and the other being a Judge Award for his movie, First Morning at the San Diego Asian Film Festival. One thing I found interesting about Vu’s helming this film is that he noticebly wrote a part of himself into the characters. Vu was born in America, and has moved to Vietnam to work for a living. In a similar manner, one of the leads in Passport to Live leaves to get a degree in America in hopes of returning to Vietnam to put it to use. What really makes this film special, is the way Vu blends an American sense of humor into an Asian romantic comedy. Which isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. But Mr. Vu wisely relies on a comedy ingredient that transcends language and culture: raunch. I’m not saying the film is a mess of raunchy misadventures; but there are scenes and situations sprinkled throughout that give the film just the right amount of “spice” it needs to stay afloat.
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This film centers on two friends traveling to America hoping for a chance to become successful. Or at least that seems to be the case with one of our lead characters named Hieu. Hieu is a guy that seems to have it all together; he’s engaged to the perfect (although submissive) woman, and he is set on getting a college education in the United States. His mother has a friend in California whose willing to help Hieu out and so his goal of earning a degree has started to take shape. The other lead character in the film is a young man who seems to be content “living in the moment”, partying harder than the next guy, and sleeping with only the hottest women. Khang is the son of a wealthy business man, and seems to be trying to do whatever he can to step out of his father’s giant, wealthy shadow. Khang is forced to go to America by his father who is finally fed up with his son’s antics. Becoming a successful man in America is Khang’s last chance at a respectful life living off his own merit.
To start off, I’d like to say that Passport to Love is not a film about the misadventures of the odd couple like protagonists were the debauchery runs non-stop. In fact, as I mentioned before, the raunch factor of this film probably registers a 1 or 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. The film instead spends time showing us the very conflicted Hieu’s balance act of video dating his fiance and having pity sex with a student he is supposed to be tutoring. Now that I think about it, that situation alone probably bumps the raunch rating up to about a 4. Meanwhile, Khang makes his American debut rather unceremoniously, getting a DUI and falling in love with the cop who cited him. Yes. He is smitten with the Vietnamese cop (she is pretty hot) who basically forces him to shape up or ship out. Khang’s dad also threatens to fly him back to Vietnam if he can’t behave. The juicey moments of the film are usually when Hieu is gulping down his guilt while trying to cheer up the “blond” student who is upset that everyone thinks she is a shallow, ignorant, rich girl. The sub-plot involving her supposed transformation is uninspiring and rushed, but the fact that her attraction to Hieu is as strong as Hieu’s finance’s is what makes her character essential. The question Hieu faces is an obvious but difficult one to answer: Should he ditch his “destined love to be” in Vietnam for this American girl? Or should he “take a chance for love” and see where his relationship with the student he’s tutoring goes? The somewhat funnier, cheesier, by-the-numbers (-ier?) part of the film that focuses on Khang is a nice complement to Hieu’s story. Khang, through a series of scenes where he’s working “undesirable” jobs, is slowly becoming self-sufficient. Khang’s story resloves on a lighter note than Khang’s but I got the feeling both characters were rewarded justly for their actions or lack thereof in the case of Hieu.
I liked the experience of the film. There was a mild touch of humor throughout that helped offset some of the more, sometimes, melodramatic scenes we see in this movie. The players on screen were all very solid and steady with the exception of Kathy Uyen (Khang’s police officer love interest), who may have even distracted herself having to switch between English and Vietnamese during her scenes in the movie. Passport to Love is a cute, thoughtful film which many would find useful as a stay at home, date night feature on Netflix.