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Bang Bang

Feature film

 

Bang Bang follows the lives of two young Asian Americans as they get pulled deeper into gang life. Justin (rapper Thai Ngo) runs away from home, crashing with friend and fellow gangster Charlie (David Huynh). A rich latchkey kid whose parents are perpetually away on business, Charlie's enamored by the idea of gang life so different from his own. But Justin, jaded with the lifestyle, seeks a way out. 

 

Winner: Los Angeles Asian Film Festival - Best First Feature Award 

 

 

And lest you think this is just another film where actors put on tough-guy attitudes and do their best to posture their way through some glamorized portrayal of gang life, it is anything but. There is an authenticity to the tale that is disturbing...

--Mark Bell

 

The actors live up to their roles quite well... David Huynh, himself an outsider playing a gangster, hits the right notes as Charlie, compensating for his background by out-gangstering the gangsters.

--Carlos Cajilig

...[A] very gritty narrative, told mostly with long takes and slang-laced dialogue. Byron Q, who makes his feature film debut, has a good eye for natural, believable performances... and the all-too-real flipside of the model minority myth -- the underachievers to Better Luck Tomorrow's overachievers.

--Howard Ho

 

 

[The film] examines the allure of the gang life for teens, as well as the Asian communitys diversity of experiences  class struggle, drug ubiquity and dysfunctional families all get screen time in this harrowing glimpse into the lives of youths seduced by consumerism and the promise of the good life. 

...With an award for Best First Feature from the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Bang Bang is making waves and its sure to thrill.

--Natalie Reyes

RAW!... solid real acting and the very documentary feel of the film. From the opening sequence the film makes you part of what is happening like you are there with the cast experiencing what they experience. There is a natural flow to conversation and an authenticity to the language... 

...[David Huynh] shows, as he does with every role he touches it seems, an ability to bring subtle nuances to a role that makes the character so complex.

--Scott Eriksson

 

In this astonishing feature film debut, director Byron Q has crafted a tale that deftly balances gritty realism with stylized visuals in a manner that transcends the gangsta movie genre. 

...The film also features outstanding performances from David Huynh (Baby, SDAFF 08)... Not just authentic in its depiction of life on the streets, the film brings hard-hitting authenticity to its characterizations and situations in a way that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.  

--Gene Huh

Bang Bang is a compelling coming-of-age story of two very different Asian American youths as they struggle for survival. 

--Ben Wang

 

Filmthreat

 

At is core, Bang Bang is the story of a friendship at the crossroads amid gangster culture in California. As musically-inclined Justin (Thai Ngo) seems to be moving away from his drug-dealing, gangbanging days, his best friend Charlie (David Huynh) seems to be heading full speed into that world. While Justin comes from poverty and has only ever known this lifestyle, Charlie comes from money and has spent his time idolizing the gangs, and building up in his mind what it means to fit in.

 

Of course, that’s the problem as most see him as the “rich kid poser,” so Charlie has to apply himself a little bit more than most. If someone is going to throw a punch to set off a brawl, it’s Charlie. If someone is going to make sure everyone is strapped with guns, it’s Charlie. Meanwhile even the gang’s leader, Rocky (Walter Wong), is lamenting his status and inability to step away from the lifestyle, making Charlie’s need to climb the ranks that much more tragic, especially when events turn increasingly more violent as an all-out gang war erupts.

 

While that story of friendship is the core thread, the film sprinkles many other narratives along the way, such as a blossoming relationship for Justin, Justin’s other friend’s problems in his abusive and dysfunctional family home and Rocky’s aforementioned desire to walk away. While the overall narrative is linear, the film presents itself in a very immersive fashion, where the audience experiences events as if they were there, standing off to the side while everything takes place in front of them. It causes an immediacy and intimacy to the film that might not otherwise exist, had the film been shot in a more distant way.

 

And lest you think this is just another film where actors put on tough-guy attitudes and do their best to posture their way through some glamorized portrayal of gang life, it is anything but. There is an authenticity to the tale that is disturbing, and the violence is something that is always seemingly on-deck, waiting for the wrong words or the wrong glance to set it off. And since each act of anger just begets another, everything just keeps escalating more and more.

 

If you don’t give it a chance, it would be easy to draw dismissive, derivative comparisons to Boyz n the Hood, though with that film being an absolute classic, any reference, even derivative or dismissive, isn’t all that insulting. Still, that’s not the case here. Again, this isn’t just a case of a film trying to be like something that came before it. Bang Bang is its own tale, and it’s told well.

 

--Mark Bell

Filmthreat.com

Hyphen Magazine

 

Fresh off of winning Best First Feature at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival, gangster drama Bang Bang is set for several screenings in San Jose next week. The feature directorial debut of Byron Q, Bang Bang follows the lives of two young Asian Americans as they get pulled deeper into gang life. Justin (rapper Thai Ngo) runs away from home, crashing with friend and fellow gangster Charlie (David Huynh in his second Asian American gangster role since 2008's Baby). A rich latchkey kid whose parents are perpetually away on business, Charlie's enamored by the idea of gang life so different from his own. But Justin, jaded with the lifestyle, seeks a way out.

 

Bang Bang's plot -- centered on an escalating gang war -- is almost an afterthought. The film is presented as a series of loosely connected vignettes that gradually flesh out the characters rather than advance the plot. Scenes are often filled with small talk, asides and jokes among characters that bring an added element of realism. Some moments are intimate almost to the point of voyeurism. Several scenes of Charlie practicing his pistol draw in front of a mirror (reminiscent of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver) feel like walking in on a child playing dress up. At one point, Justin and gang member Hoang (Hoang Bui) fumble with their first forays into music-making -- sometimes it's uncomfortable, sometimes it's endearing. But it always rings of truth.

 

As the title suggests, Bang Bang is not just a character study. Violence and death are constant threats. Fights break out frequently, are quick and often brutal, without sensationalism or sentimentality. Scenes of domestic violence also remind the viewer that violence goes beyond gangs. For many, it's an everyday reality.

 

Altogether, these elements of intimacy and grittiness create a heightened sense of realism. And with the no frills dialogue (heavy on the slang) and handheld film shooting, Bang Bang often feels more like a documentary than a narrative.

 

The actors live up to their roles quite well, owing to the fact that many were amateurs with real life gang backgrounds. For instance, Thai Ngo was also in a gang before finding a way out through music. And David Huynh, himself an outsider playing a gangster, hits the right notes as Charlie, compensating for his background by out-gangstering the gangsters.

 

The film stumbles by trying to add too many elements, such as a hallucinatory drug trip and a perfunctory romance with flower shop girl Jenn (Jessika Van). They're interesting distractions from the heaviness of the rest of the film, but in the end feel out of place. Meanwhile, the lack of a strong plot, while adding to the sense of realism, makes it difficult to get invested in the story. As such, the film at times seems to meander.

 

But these few missteps aside, Bang Bang is a serious and unflinching look at a side of Asian America that rarely gets portrayed in film, and even more rarely with this candor.

 

--Carlos Cajilig

Hyphenmagazine.com

 

 

Asian Pacific Arts

 

Asian American street gangs are the subject of this very gritty narrative, told mostly with long takes and slang-laced dialogue. Byron Q, who makes his feature film debut, has a good eye for natural, believable performances by mostly amateur actors and the all-too-real flipside of the model minority myth -- the underachievers to Better Luck Tomorrow's overachievers.

 

Justin (played by rapper Thai Ngo) runs away from home to live with his parachute kid friend, played by David Huynh, whose award-winning turn in Baby makes him one of the film's few pros. As Charlie violently makes himself into a gangster, Justin moves away from the lifestyle and even becomes a DJ. Shot in San Diego, the suburban wasteland of these teenage thugs is portrayed with much pathos in its subtler moments: in a mother's tearful defense of her derelict son and in a gang leader's frustration as he scrubs his friend's dried blood off his driveway.

 

The film has rough-around-the-edges feel as it frequently fades to black and uses black-and-white still montage without much consistency. However, Byron Q succeeds in his overall mission, which is to give us a glimpse into this story's world and feel for its characters.

 

--Howard Ho

 
 
 
 
 

The Daily Californian

 

Byron Q, a University of California, San Diego graduate of film studies, makes his film debut with Bang Bang, a docufiction which peeks into the little-seen, gritty gang life of Asian American youth. Bang Bang stars Portland rapper Thai Ngo as Justin, a Vietnamese teen looking to make something of himself when the world has the opposite in mind.

 

The film confronts a myriad of issues. Byron Q examines the allure of the gang life for teens, as well as the Asian communitys diversity of experiences  class struggle, drug ubiquity and dysfunctional families all get screen time in this harrowing glimpse into the lives of youths seduced by consumerism and the promise of the good life. The movie is dialogue-heavy, but contains a healthy dose of action, with gang fights and gunshots aplenty.

 

Bang Bang suffers from a few drawbacks, namely the fact that the music occasionally overpowers the dialogue. Jump-cuts and stills are executed during the intense fight scenes  this cheapens their potential power. Low-budget issues aside, the movie boasts some authentic diction. When the characters spew profanity in the rough, urban vernacular that comes with the street life, we are reminded that the cast is largely unprofessional  many of the crew grew up surrounded by the gangs Bang Bang portrays. With an award for Best First Feature from the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Bang Bang is making waves and its sure to thrill.

 

 --Natalie Reyes

dailycal.org

 

Asians On Film

 

First, you know writer/director Byron Q created something good when the media gets shut out of screenings because its sold out! Such was the case with us at the Los Angeles premiere in May when we planned to do a review of the film as a followup to our interview with Byron Q, Thai Ngo, David Huynh and Jessika Van! The film has gone on to screenings in other cities and continues to play to packed audiences.

 

The Orange County, CA premiere this week gave us another opportunity to catch the film which we didand this film is RAW! That is the perfect word to discribe the film, not just because of the writing and directing, but the visual style, the solid real acting and the very documentary feel of the film. From the opening sequence the film makes you part of what is happening like you are there with the cast experiencing what they experience. Using both a script and improvisation, Byron has also allowed the film to breathe and take on a much bigger life than the confines of what the actors were given to learn. There is a natural flow to conversation and an authenticity to the language. Thai Ngo, a well-known musical artist, is impressive in his acting debut as lead character Justin. David Huynh plays his side-kick Charlie and shows, as he does with every role he touches it seems, an ability to bring subtle nuances to a role that makes the character so complex. Walter Wong is another actor in the film that provides a standout performance, and Jessika Van just isnt seen enough! If there is a drawback, its the fact that the viewer is left a bit unsatisfied and wanting to know more about the characters and where they came from and how their bonds developed. And here is one of the very interesting things about this filmthere are genuine laugh out loud moments that work (which you wouldnt expect) in such a brutal, very real feeling film about gang life, because it brings to life the bond these guys have as friends. Byron's feature film debut is a great film to call my first.

 

--Scott Eriksson

San Diego Asian Film Festival

 

Best First Film, 2011 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

 

Justin (Thai Ngo) is a troubled teenage gang member who runs away from home after a fight with his mother. Despite a real desire to pursue a career in music, gang life has trapped Justin in a world he cannot escape. Conversely, his best friend Charlie (David Huynh), despite his wealthy upbringing, has become completely infatuated with the gangster lifestyle and seeks a way in. When the murder of a fellow gang member ignites a violent street war, both Justin and Charlie become embroiled in a conflict that will change both of their lives forever.

 

In this astonishing feature film debut, director Byron Q has crafted a tale that deftly balances gritty realism with stylized visuals in a manner that transcends the gangsta movie genre . Shot locally in San Diego, the film also features outstanding performances from hip hop artist Thai Ngo in the lead role, David Huynh (Baby, SDAFF 08) and Jessika Van as Justin's love interest. Not just authentic in its depiction of life on the streets, the film brings hard-hitting authenticity to its characterizations and situations in a way that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.  

 

--Gene Huh

 

 
 

San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

 

Written and Directed by Byron Q, Bang Bang is the story of two Asian American teenagers dealing with deteriorating family lives and escalating gang violence. Thai Ngo, best known as Portland, Oregon rap artist, Thai makes his acting debut as Justin, a resilient Vietnamese teenager looking for a way out of the gang life. Seeking freedom from his mother and dysfunctional household, Justin runs away from home and stays with his friend, the Taiwanese rich kid Charlie (David Huynh). Justin's character (which closely mirrors Thai's own experiences of being fatherless, surrounded by violence, and gang banging as a kid), is finally presented with the opportunity of an alternative, through the world of hip-hop. Meanwhile, Charlie desperately tries to prove himself to Justin and the rest of the gang as they are caught up in an escalating gang war. Ultimately, Bang Bang is a compelling coming-of-age story of two very different Asian American youths as they struggle for survival. A film that always rings with truth (Hypen Magazine), Bang Bang won the Best First Feature award at the 2011 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

 

--Ben Wang