Chung Chí Công’s directorial debut is a poignant portrayal of an indie musician’s chance encounter with a motorcycle taxi driver in the vibrant backdrop of Saigon. The two protagonists decide to spend the whole day just wandering and singing songs about life, mistakes they’ve made, and the burning dreams in their hearts. In this interview, the filmmaker discusses the origins and inspirations behind Good Morning and Good Night,emphasizing its unique characters, music-driven narrative, and the significance of preserving the city’s fading charms.
You worked in branding and advertising for twelve years before working as a filmmaker. Good Morning and Good Night is your second film, after Summer In Closed Eyes (2018). How would you describe the appeal of the film, especially in terms of its narrative?
I worked as a copywriter in the branding and advertising industry for ten years from 2007 to 2017. After experiencing a 30-something life crisis, I was about to quit the job and leave Saigon. At that time, Phạm Thanh Tân, the producer of Summer In Closed Eyes, had called me to a new adventure with the film crew in the role of screenwriter and production designer. I have teamed up with Tân for years through many short film competitions, so I could not deny being part of his first feature film project… Summer In Closed Eyes not only reminded me to appreciate precious things in life, but also inspired me to tell more stories through the eyes and voice of an independent filmmaker.
That’s when I began developing the idea of Good Morning and Good Night like a love letter of mine at 30 sent to myself… [in my] 20s. I want to tell a story about my youthful days full of fear, sadness, passion, hope, and dreams. I want to be honest to the reality that stands in front of me and my generation wondering about who we are and what we truly need in a city full of chances and challenges. I want the story to be a heartfelt sympathy between youngsters and their families while they’re struggling to grow up to become a responsible adult.
The main characters in this film are unique and unpredictable. How would you describe them, and how did they come to life?
They both reflect me and my own day-to-day surroundings at the age of 20s. Tâm (Hoàng Quốc Hà), the male character, portrays me and many of my friends after graduating from the university and reaching for a definition of yourself through relationships. We all need to be realized… to be listened to, to be followed, but we don’t know how to get there. We are the ones who will spend all the money we earned for the things we love without hesitation. We are the ones who want to conquer the world without any weapons in hands. We are the ones who easily get lost but refuse to share the pain with our beloved families because of our own pride and prejudice against [the generation gap].
While Tâm stands for the sorrow side of mine, Thanh (Trần Lê Thúy Vy), the female character, helps brighten up the story with her [charm]. In the very first draft of the story, Thanh is just an ordinary girl with a simple dream of earning enough money for her daily life. The screenplay had barely changed during the pre-production, especially after the casting. I met and knew Thúy Vy, the main actress, years before starting this film project. What I didn’t know is that she applied for the main cast and surprisingly matched my imagination when [I wrote] down the female character. She… helped me to develop Thanh’s personality and made this girl become more thoughtful with unpredictable traits. Thanh won’t act what we all think a girl like her will act. Thanh won’t say dialogues that we love to hear from a stranger the first time we meet. Thanh is the challenge to Tâm’s prejudice, the landing ground for flying-without-wings souls and the reality that we all have to face during our growing days.
I am also curious to know how the narrative and the soundtrack work together in this film. In what ways do you think music helps storytelling and vice versa
I wanted to tell a coming-of-age movie with music as the soul of the story. Most of the soundtrack being used in the film had been composed and published by young artists before we started the project. They all came from [a] track list of Vietnamese indie songs being collected for years in my Soundcloud account. This tracklist helped me a lot while writing the story outline. Finding out a song that beautifully matches with the emotion of a sequence helped me to keep a certain mood and tone for any given part of the story. It also helped the actor and actress understand the deep feelings of their characters without any explanation.
And because Tâm is a songwriter, we need some brand new song actually written by the character. I have worked with Hai Au Pham, the music producer, to write these tracks with a specific tone and lyrics that may help inform the character’s growing journey. For the theme song, we have two versions being sung in the film. The first one, or the pessimistic version, is composed by the male character after he first met the girl in Saigon. The second one, or the realistic version, is re-written by the female character when they meet again one year later in Da Lat. Both versions share the same melody but totally different lyrics. It is similar to our characters sharing the same growing journey with different choices, different points of view and different decisions for their life.
The film follows a quite unexpected encounter of Tâm and Thanh for about a day, which begins at night and ends at late night or dawn. While these young people visit different places and share their stories, we also get to see the cityscape of Saigon. Are there any specific characteristics of the city that you wanted to emphasize?
In 2004, I moved to Saigon to study at Foreign Trade University. I was immediately impressed by the beautiful old side of the city. I love acting like a traveler walking around the historic center, letting myself wander in the alleys and taste a fried banana cake at a street corner. I love to talk with [middle-aged] men and women I randomly met on the way, and asked them about how Saigon looked 30 or 40 years ago. In 2015,, I had a chance to talk with an old British man in a vintage coffee shop in the backpacker area. He had visited Saigon many times since the 1990s. Every time he came back to the city, he realized that some old buildings had been replaced by skyscrapers or shopping centers. He told me that, “I think this is the last time I am here. I don’t want to miss something when I discover that it has been destroyed by somebody…I love this city so much, and I hate to see the way it’s forced to become right now”.
His thought has inspired me to think about telling a story for the city’s soon-to-disappear things. It can be a midcentury bridge, a pagoda’s sunny backyard, a wooden bench in a church for Hoa people, a song being played through a Sony cassette in a coffee shop, an empty seat on the bus to Ben Thanh market or simply a lovely strange person I only met once in life. Those little things have to be told or they will die. And when they die, I won’t be able to remember who I am, how I feel and why I stay in this city. I need to capture them with a heart-warming story before they fade in my memory as time goes by.
The Vietnamese title of the film is Trời sáng rồi, ta ngủ đi thôi (It’s morning, let’s go to sleep), and the English title is Good Morning and Good Night. Though different in nuance, both titles seem to imply the importance of time in the film, not to mention that the first song in the film is also about time. What would be the significance of time/temporality?
Honestly I didn’t think about the concept of time too much while developing this project. I’m just interested in people who love to spend their time talking with a stranger, a blooming flower on the road home, a beautiful sky in the morning and all the lovely little things in life. I always believe that when we spend enough time on something, it will become special to us.
(Interviewed by Jiyon Byun)
Good Morning and Good Night will be preceded by the short film House Rules at Viet Film Fest 2023. It will be available virtually, and will be screened in-person at 4 PM on Saturday, October 7 at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana California.
ABOUT Chung Chí Công
Before working as a filmmaker, Cong had worked in branding and advertising for 12 years before leaving to co-found the company with Tan, a veteran producer. Starting with 2 feature films ‘Summer In Closed Eyes’ in 2018 and ’Good Morning and Good Night’ in 2019, Cong realized how wonderful the world is via storytelling, and decided to devote his life to make good movies.
VIET FILM FEST 2023
September 30th to October 15th, 2023
Program Schedule and Tickets: