Rohingyas Meet Vietnamese Boat People in Berlin Winning ‘Taste’ Team’s Busan APM Project ‘The Sea Is Calm Tonight’

Vietnamese Writer-director Le Bao and Singapore and Toronto-based producer Lai Weijie, who collaborated successfully on “Taste” (2021), are reuniting for Busan Asian Project Market title “The Sea is Calm Tonight.”

“Taste,” Le’s feature debut, had considerable festival play and won awards at Berlin, Singapore, Taipei and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

In “The Sea is Calm Tonight,” Vietnamese boat people of 40 years past have a miraculous meeting with Rohingya refugees of the present in their parallel sea journeys to find peace.

“When my mother was pregnant with me, my parents lived on a barge amidst a large river. Whenever a strong gust of wind blew or boats crossed the river, the water surface would accumulate into waves, like sea waves. When I was younger, my parents told me that they wished my name was Lê Biển, which means the sea. The thought of this other life with a different identity lingers in my mind,” Le told Variety.

“During the post-production of ‘Taste,’ I began imagining mysterious encounters amidst the vast ocean, which I would like to build the film’s central story around. The film starts from “touch”, one of the five human senses (after ‘Taste’ – my first feature length film).

I then thought of an encounter between spirits of Vietnamese boat people from 40 years ago and Rohingya refugees fleeing the present. In both cases, generations of people displaced, communities driven by a desire to find peace and a chance at life with their loved ones. To find a home.

My approach in this film is with a strong faith that such encounters could happen in the past, now, and in the future. It is not an illusory belief, instead, starting from inner faith. My role is to capture these encounters’ sensations,” adds Le.

Lai told Variety, “It was a natural progression from working together on ‘Taste.’ There was a real generosity with everyone involved in that film, and Bao and I trust and respect each other immensely. We have been speaking about this since the time we were shooting ‘Taste’.”

“The Sea is Calm Tonight” is being produced by Lai and Elizabeth Wijaya’s E&W Films, which also produced Kirsten Tan’s Sundance, Rotterdam and Zurich-winning “Pop Aye” (2017) and co-produced Edwin’s Locarno Golden Leopard-winning “Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash” (2021).

“There are many exciting projects taking place in Southeast Asia, and many filmmakers that I respect a lot. I’m cautious about what I can take on, and am most comfortable coming onboard projects that I feel I can make a genuine and meaningful contribution towards. I like to work on projects where there is a little mystery to the process,” says Lai about his project boarding process.

Lai, formerly a senior programmer at the Singapore International Film Festival, has a full slate coming up. Chiang Wei Liang’s “Mongrel,” developed at the Cannes Residence, Talents Tokyo, and TorinoFilmLab ScriptLab, is in early pre-production. He is also co-producing a few films: “Cu Li Never Cries” by Pham Ngoc Lan, is currently in production; and in pre-production are “Viet and Nam” by Truong Minh Quy, “Regrettably at Dawn” by Sivaroj Kongsakul and “The Gospel of the Beast” by Sheron Dayoc.

“Cangrejos” by Zurich Chan is in development and an animation project is in development.

“I would like to take the opportunity to understand and explore more co-production and collaboration possibilities within Asia,” says Lai. “APM, particularly this year, felt like the perfect place and time to pursue that. We were fortunate to be in the selection.”

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