Meeting with Buffalo Boy Kim

Buffalo boy Kim (photo: The Global Film Institute)

Although the “Buffalo Boy” has not been screened widely, the large contingent of people who work in the movie industry and like movies have watched it. The impressions did stay in the audience when the movie ended, they were not only the silvery color of the water and the infinite sadness about the human destinies, but also a clear image of the teenaged Kim. With his plain acting and emotive accent, the  character Kim has absorbed the audience in the movie… The movie went on winning several international awards.
 

Actor Le The Lu
 

The Buffalo Boy is Lu’s first movie. He was cast the role when he was a sophomore of the Acting Department of the Hochiminh City Stage and Screen College. He was unexpectedly cast in the role of Kim, which is the leading character in a celluloid feature film, but he was even more surprised when he knew that he would work with an experienced director and a professional team. Lu is slender with a tawny complexion; his face is attractive but looks sad. Perhaps the sadness on his face caught the attention of director Nguyen Vo Nghiem Minh. There is an expression of great sadness on Kim’s face from the opening to the ending of the movie, he almost doesn’t have a vision of a smile. 

Director Nguyen Vo Nghiem Minh and actor Le The Lu

Like other students of the Acting Department, Lu desired to apply what he had learnt to act in a movie. Following his friends, Lu applied for casting in more than 10 movies but he always failed. Opportunity or luckiness suddenly came to him as his old casting file filed at the Giai Phong Film Studio fell into the director Nghiem Minh’s hands, and Lu was called for the casting. “In the first round, the director asked me something about life, life experiences, sadness and happiness. These are emotions which the Kim character has to experience later. I felt as if I had a natural destiny with the movie at the first minute I met with the director…” said Lu.
 
Kim is a coming-of-age boy born in the Mekong Delta flood plain where the living conditions are very hard due to the worst flooding season all year round. The seemingly endless water makes all creatures rotten; even there is no land to bury the dead. The buffalo, the most precious asset of families there, is gotten to higher ground so they will have grass to eat during the flooding season. Under such a circumstance, Kim becomes a buffalo herder and passes into adulthood when he witnesses the bitterness of human destinies and of himself… 
 
For the Sake of Art
 

 “I could feel like that screenplay is exotically novel and has much literary quality in it. I bought the novel “Huong Rung Ca Mau” (Scent of the Ca Mau Forest) by Vietnamese author Son Nam and read it thoroughly. I rode to Nhon Trach area (Dong Nai Province) to find children who were herding buffaloes in the rice fields to make acquaintance with them for ten whole days. I told them that I was from Saigon and craved for a feeling of riding on a buffalo. They trusted me and trained me every day. I have got close little friends and became a professional buffalo herdsboy”… said Lu
 

A scene in the movie

Then, Lu and director Nghiem Minh went to the Thu Thiem ferry to practice rowing a boat and diving every day. Half a month before shooting the movie, Lu was ordered to go to An Giang province to familiarize himself with the life and activities of the local people. Afterwards, Lu and the filmmaking team stayed in Tri Ton, Tra Su (Chau Doc – An Giang) for months. Day in, day out, he was soaking himself in the river and practicing with hundreds of buffaloes hired from Cambodia. The buffaloes not used to being ridden, Lu was thrown off no less than three or four times. The filmmaking team admitted that this young actor was… stubborn.

For dangerous scenes which would be acted by a stuntman, Lu also asked for a permission to act by himself. He was even once swept away by the river water. Fortunately he was rescued in time by the local people. He acted so genuinely that sometimes there was only the existence of Kim with a feeling of losses and harshness of human destinies. Because of his so real acting, Lu burst into tears while he was carrying the corpse of Hai Tich on his shoulder to go find a place to bury (though it was a fake corpse).

Poster of the movie in the Locarno International Film Festival 2004 in Venice

Lu said “At that time, I only thought of the man who sacrificed his stone mortar to keep my father’s corpse from floating on the water surface though he knew there would be nothing left to keep his body from drifting with the current when he died... and so I couldn’t hold my tears.” The director had to stop shooting for a while in order to comfort Lu. The director said ” you have to leave this pain for your audience to feel; you must not cry because the character won’t be able to cry over a pain which has been embedded deep inside.” 
 
 The opportunity of acting in the Buffalo Boy was beyond a student’s dreams like Lu. Lu confided that he tried his best for the role and was very happy when it was received by the audience. Lu thinks that it was his good luck, but the audience know that it was an effort to prove himself as an actual actor. It is only Lu’s first movie, his career is still long ahead. Hopefully, this 21-year-old student will keep nurturing his passion to devote his life to art. 
 

Ha Giang - Translated by Hoang Yen

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