By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Reporter
If you were in California in 2016, you probably heard about the events that inspired The Accidental Getaway Driver. Director Sing J. Lee , who co-wrote the script with Christopher Chen, was awarded the US Dramatic Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Despite the title, this isn’t an action film. Starring former 21 Jump Street heartthrob Dustin Nguyen and the 81-year-old Hiệp Trần Nghĩa, the film is characterized by contemplative sadness as it examines the American immigrant dream gone wrong.
Nghĩa is Long Mã, the titular driver, who shuffles through life, imprisoned by his poor English language skills. In another life, Long Mã enjoyed isolation as a temporary oasis from a busy family life as shown at the beginning of the film. The film will circle back to this and its emotional significance, but that’s after we’ve crashed through a testosterone-heavy road trip.
When Long Mã receives a call from a stranger, he doesn’t want to take the job. It’s late and he’s tired, but he’s also not well off and he has no one waiting for him at home. The voice at the end of the phone belongs to Tây (Dustin Nguyen), a fellow Vietnamese American, who likely got Mã’s phone number from a Vietnamese newspaper. Tây has “friends” in tow, Aden (Dali Benssalah) and another Vietnamese American Eddie (Phi Vu). Aden doesn’t understand Vietnamese; Eddie, as his name suggests, is more at home in English.
These men have just audaciously broken out of an Orange County jail and need an untraceable ride to freedom. Beyond planning their escape, this threesome has not formulated how and where freedom is for them as a statewide search begins.
As director Lee focuses on the men themselves instead of the action. The camera lens confronts each man and their fears and falsehoods. The plot doesn’t stray so far from what the newspapers have written about these events yet Lee and Chen’s script drives home the different journeys of immigrant men and how they sometimes desperately rebuild the familial structures they have left behind.
This is a sensitive portrayal of the immigrant experience, of men losing and finding themselves and of men together as reluctant friends. The Accidental Getaway Driver is a promising first feature for Lee. The film made its world premiere on 23 January 2023. In Vietnamese and English with English subtitles.
The film won the Directing Award: US Dramatic at Sundance.
For more information about the film and the actual events, visit my blog: AgeOfTheGeek.org.
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