Exclusive: Director Lê Văn Kiệt On THE REQUIN

Vietnamese director Lê Văn Kiệt plays with crisis and bloodletting in THE REQUIN and beyond.

By Nguyen Le · @nle318 · February 9, 2022, 2:27 PM EST

To get more out of The Requin, you should first focus on the humaines. The film from Lê Văn Kiệt, whose title is simply "Shark" in French, has aspirations to be more than its cover of "just another holiday gone awry" or, more apparently, "just another prey-versus-predator fare." As a result, if you have swum in The Shallows or dove 47 Meters Down—twice, caged and uncaged—Kiệt believes The Requin can still tempt you to dip your flippers in.

If the Vietnamese-American filmmaker's name sounds familiar, it's possibly because you have seen Hai Phượng, otherwise known as Furie. Starring Veronica Ngo who became an internet favorite after playing the tide-turning gunner in The Last Jedi's opening and Charlize Theron's immortal BFF in The Old Guard. The film sees a mother rechanneling the gangster roots she has left behind to rescue her daughter from a far-reaching kidnapping ring. There you have it, a show of maternal love within an electric actioner. And that proved to be a potent enough formula for Furie to break records in Vietnam, find much love stateside, and represent Vietnam, submitted to the 92nd Academy Awards.


"I've always wanted this film to be a metaphor of a middle-aged couple facing their past trauma, and that trauma comes in the form of a very intense final confrontation that would be a predator that our hero needs to defeat," said Kiệt, who is currently in London working on a project. As with many of his past works, The Requin, now out on VOD, sees him wearing both the director and screenwriter's hat. It tells the story of Jaelyn (Alicia Silverstone) and Kyle (James Tupper) vacationing in Vietnam to soothe the trauma of the former's miscarriage, only to face something graver when a storm sweeps their overwater bungalow away into open water.


The thing about Vietnam and sharks is the fish are in more danger than the people. This is not to say there are no shark attacks at all in the country—a case in Quy Nhơn in June 2010 received some media coverage, just two bites on the swimmer's arm and ultimately non-fatal—but more often seen in the news is that a fisherman has caught (at least) one in his net. On the subject of Vietnamese sharks, Google will give you the people whose startups are trying to secure an investment from the game show Thương vụ bạc tỷ, also called Shark Tank Vietnam. Needless to say, Kiệt has exercised creative liberty here, but it's also a known fact that sharks are very flexible with where they choose to swim. "Sharks migrate across oceans all over the world, so it would not be unusual for sharks to be near Vietnam," he said.


But, again: The Requin's primary focus is the people. In this case, an alternate-universe version of American Woman's Bonnie and Steve Nolan attempting to deal with their pains in Vũng Tàu (the monument of Vietnam's teenage war hero Võ Thị Sáu the couple is seen visiting is a giveaway). Speaking of Vietnam, much of the production was filmed at Orlando's Universal Studios, which proved to be the next best decision after Vietnam closed itself off to prevent the resurgence of COVID-19. Kiệt said commonalities between Florida's weather and Southeast Asia's helped make the filming process smooth, barring the powerful winds and constant downpours every now and then. "I guess you can't expect nature to be kind," he added.


As the film progresses, it becomes more evident the heart of the story is Silverstone's Jaelyn, and one of the things that gets tested is her bond with Tupper's Kyle. All the crisis and bloodletting, centering around marriage and the leading woman's perspective are elements Kiệt has previously played with in 2012's Ngôi Nhà Trong Hẻm (or House in the Alley), a domestic horror film also starring Furie's Ngo and at the time a major box-office hit. The film is free to view on Tubi.

"In development, things just seem better when a female protagonist takes hold of the story," he said. "I guess it comes from me watching so many vintage testosterone-driven action movies of the '80s, the machine-gun-muscle era. I loved them, but that only means I'd rather see something similar but a woman doing it."


From here, Kiệt reveals that inspirations for The Requin include 2003's Open Water from Chris Kentis, the minimalist loose adaptation of a couple's real-life tragic incident of being left behind by their dive-boat, and 2019's Crawl from Alexandre Aja. During this one-set intense ride, a woman has to save her father (and dog!) from alligators while a hurricane rages all around them. He also says Tupper is an ideal foil for Silverstone because his calm demeanor as the cheerier, more-with-the-flow individual of this doomed tour can portray the state of the characters' marriage without writing extra dialogue or using flashbacks.

All in all, Kiệt is very proud to have made and completed the film in a world as ever-shifting as the high seas. A busy year is in the cards for him as a filmmaker. In Vietnam, theaters are waiting for his latest supernatural horror, Bóng Đè (The Ancestral, but the literal translation is "sleep paralysis"), after multiple pandemic-prompted delays. The warm welcome is nice after the censorship board gutted his teenage slasher Bẫy Cấp 3 in 2012 and zombie found-footage title Rừng Xác Sống (or Vietnam: The Lost Tour) in 2014. The trailers for both films are still viewable on YouTube.


And reality might state otherwise, but the film that has him in London at the time of writing might also be 20th Century Studios' upcoming The Princess with Joey King in the lead. "This is going to be a fun one," he said. "It brings me back to my roots of Furie, and I'm very excited for audiences to experience something very new. As has been reported, it is a genre-bending action thriller [a cross] between Sleeping Beauty and John Wick—that should get anyone's attention."

The Requin is now streaming and arrives March 29th on Blu-ray™ + Digital and DVD from Lionsgate. Click below to stream now.