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‘The Sympathizer’ examines ‘flip aspect of the American dream’

Hoa Xuande (left) and Robert Downey Jr. in “The Sympathizer” —HBO/ HBO GO

Hoa Xuande (left) and Robert Downey Jr. in “The Sympathizer” —HBO/ HBO GO

After we visited the set of HBO, HBO Go and A24’s acclaimed seven-part collection “The Sympathizer” in Thailand final yr, we have been as excited in regards to the prospect of watching how Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer-winning novel is customized for the display as we have been about assembly its celebrated administrators, particularly Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”), Fernando Meirelles (“Metropolis of God”) and Marc Munden (“The Mark of Cain”).

“The Sympathizer,” which dropped its penultimate episode final Monday, is a visually and thematically compelling black comedy in regards to the exploits of a double spy (Hoa Xuande) within the South Vietnamese military after he will get himself embedded as an immigrant in america following the autumn of Saigon in 1975.

Other than Hoa, the collection additionally stars Sandra Oh, David Duchovny, John Cho and the indefatigable Robert Downey Jr.—who performs 4 completely different characters, particularly as a CIA determine, a swishy college professor, a congressman and as a movie director.

READ: On the set of ‘The Sympathizer’ with Park Chan-wook

After our interview with showrunner/director Park Chan-wook, we have been pushed to the set the place the South Korean auteur was filming an important sequence for the primary episode involving the primary protagonist and his two shut pals. We have been instructed that the following taking pictures day would contain a scene for the ultimate episode.

Earlier than we have been ushered right into a Vietnamese restaurant set, we waited in a crowded room with producer Niv Fichman (“Blindness,” “BlackBerry,” “The Crimson Violin”), who defined to us what went into their determination to make a collection as a substitute of a movie.

Very cinematic

“The primary one that learn the novel was a very good good friend of mine, actor-producer Kim Ly, whose mom is Swedish and whose father is Vietnamese,” Niv associated. “Due to that, Kim felt some reference to the primary protagonist, the Captain, who’s French-Vietnamese. He learn the ebook even earlier than it grew to become well-known.

“When it got here out, it was the primary time {that a} main American novel would inform the story of the Vietnam battle and its aftermath, however this time, it’s instructed from the Vietnamese perspective. This was in early 2016 [a year after the novel was released].

“Kim and I labored collectively on a movie in Vietnam referred to as ‘Saigon Bodyguards,’ the place he was a producer and one of many lead actors. Like me, he’s additionally from Canada. He instructed me, ‘You must learn this ebook! It’s so good it received the Pulitzer Prize.’ So, I did, and I believed it was unbelievable. And since I see issues as a movie producer, I believed it will be nice as a movie … as a result of it feels very cinematic.

“So, we spoke to Viet Thanh Nguyen, the creator. I produced a movie some time again referred to as ‘Blindness’ (2008), directed by Fernando Meirelles, primarily based on a novel by Nobel laureate Jose Saramago and starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal and Sandra Oh. It’s straightforward to know the connections from right here (laughs).

“We requested Viet Thanh who he needed to direct this, as a result of he noticed this challenge as a collection. He mentioned Park Chan-wook, since ‘Oldboy’ was a part of the inspiration for his novel. So in case you’re acquainted with the ebook’s well-known squid scene [which involved masturbation] and the violence it depicts, you already know that these themes may very well be proper up Chan-wook’s alley.

“Since I knew Chan-wook, I approached him in regards to the challenge. However on the time, he was busy with one other collection ‘The Little Drummer Woman,’ starring Florence Pugh and Alexander Skarsgard. He did handle to learn it a yr later [in 2019] and expressed curiosity in helming it—not as a movie, however as a TV collection.”


Why did they suppose its story would resonate with Asian viewers?

“It’s a serious collection, you already know? HBO put an enormous quantity of assets into it,” defined Niv. “It’s an American collection the place a giant chunk of the dialogue is being spoken within the Vietnamese language, and its perspective is absolutely Vietnamese.

“Since a giant a part of it’s set within the US, it’s additionally in regards to the pursuit of the American dream—nevertheless it’s the ‘different aspect’ of the American dream! It references the American dream with quite a lot of ironies. So, I believe it’ll resonate with the completely different communities which have come to the US. Like, within the outdated days, there was ‘The Godfather’ for the Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, and so forth.”

The ebook additionally makes a hefty reference to the Philippines when it discusses its film-within-a-film storyline, particularly when the primary character is employed as a Vietnamese marketing consultant for a film that winkingly channels “Apocalypse Now” or “Platoon.” We requested Niv to debate the modifications made.

“Sure, a part of the story is a couple of movie inside a movie. Within the ebook, that film is shot within the Philippines. However in our story, we determined to not make it within the Philippines. We determined to do it within the US in order that different characters related to the primary character can nonetheless be a part of the supposedly Philippine-set] story. The change was made out of narrative causes, not as a result of we didn’t wish to shoot to the Philippines.”

Takes time

What did they discover most difficult about bringing this specific challenge to life?

“I’ve been engaged on this challenge since 2016—that’s seven years! On the time, my hair had identical colour as yours [black] … now it’s all grey (laughs)! Contemplating the place we ended up, from the time that two guys began to learn a ebook and received the rights to it, then we received this partnership with HBO … I imply, this journey has been fairly nice!

“This will have taken me seven years to do, however my journey with ‘Blindness’ was even longer—like, 10 years! When it takes us a very long time to complete our nice huge tasks, it’s not as a result of we carry on making an attempt and failing—it’s extra like we’re ready for [the stars to align], like Park Chan-wook ending one other collection and deciding to do ours.

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“It was a chance as a result of he might have simply mentioned no, so we have been very fortunate that he mentioned sure. Then, we needed to put all the opposite items collectively—like getting A24 to offer us a bit bit of cash, then we needed to write the pilot episode, and so on. Each little step takes a yr … and every little factor takes time. That will appear to be a fairly very long time, however then once more, we received fortunate each step of the best way.” INQ



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