Once in a while, you come across a “little film that could.” A film that knows exactly what it wants to be, and while it’s not a perfect film, there’s a great deal of heart behind it. Writer/director Minh Duc Nguyen puts together a low-budget indie thriller with a cool logline and sets it in the middle of Little Saigon in Orange County, California. The film by no means is perfect but makes the most of the resources at its disposal to tell a story.
The film is Actress Wanted, and it’s about a struggling actress named Mai (Thien Nguyen). Being shoved from one cattle call to the next, she’s become more than frustrated. Soon, she stumbles across a great acting opportunity that will help pay the bills and flex her acting skills at the same time. She takes a job from Vu (Long Nguyen), a school janitor, who hires Mai to dress and act like his dead wife (i.e., cosplay) and recreate his top ten memories of their life together. Really, what could go wrong?
Before every gig, Mai receives a package containing a costume, a check, and Vu’s script. She shows up at various locations, and the two role-play these sweet and tender moments. It’s pretty funny seeing Mai in a dress from the 80’s and Vu in an obvious hairpiece. Naturally, the roleplays begin with their first meeting at the nearby elementary school where Vu works. She walks in on him as he’s cleaning a classroom, and it’s all pretend “love at first sight.”
“…hires Mai to dress and act like his dead wife and recreate his top ten memories of their life together.”
The next time is a chance meeting at the library where Vu musters the nerve to ask his love on a date. Then to a Vietnamese restaurant recreating their first date. Everything seems to be going well. Mai is exceptional in the role of Vu’s wife, and Vu is pleased with her performance. Perfect, right?
Nothing is ever as good as it seems. Soon, a mysterious homeless man appears out of nowhere and follows Mai around town. What about Vu? What’s his deal? Is it strange that Vu speaks to his dead wife when he’s along at home? Is he mentally unbalanced?
Actress Wanted is the perfect example of a filmmaking team, who loves making films and refuses to let a small budget and limited resources say “no.” Minh Duc Nguyen is clearly a fan of the Hitchcockian thriller and has written a nice tight story with an intriguing premise.
“…its strong premise and good performances that help forgive an imperfect ending.”
As a struggling actress herself, Thien Nguyen brings a great deal of authenticity as the young, struggling actress. Long Nguyen also plays the strange janitor with a pleasant exterior clutching on to a dark secret, while walking that fine line between healthy and psychotic. Adding to the thrills is Isabelle Du as Linh, Vu’s roommate, who is a little jealous of Vu’s cushy role.
If Actress Wanted does stumble, it’s the ending. The final act does push the boundaries of plausibility. You’re going to think, “it just can’t happen this way.” There’s a part of me that wishes it leaned heavily toward an over-the-top gory angle. Additionally, cool special effects and shocking make-up might overshadow its weak ending in a good way. The good of Actress Wanted comes from its strong premise and good performances that help forgive an imperfect ending. Director Minh Duc Nguyen proves to be a competent indie filmmaker with the skills to do a lot with very little.
Actress Wanted (2019) Written and directed by Minh Duc Nguyen. Starring Thien Nguyen, Long Nguyen, Isabelle Du, Dang Hung Son. Actress Wanted screened at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
7 out of 10 stars