Where Are They Now? Dustin Nguyen

Far away from 21 Jump Street, Dustin Nguyen comes home to talk filmmaking.

By , Columnist
Flash back to the '80s and you may remember Dustin Nguyen starring opposite Johnny Depp as officer Harry Truman loki on FOX's 21 Jump Street. Today you'll find him back in Vietnam as a writer, director, producer, and, yes, sometimes still actor.

In 2009 Nguyen was voted best actor in Vietnam, winning the country's Oscar, the Cánh Diều Vàng (Golden Kite Award). Coming off of the success of Để Mai Tính, Vietnam's biggest film of 2010, he took a few minutes to talk with young creatives in Vietnam at aSaigon/CreativeMorning, a non-profit speaker series for young people in the creative industries.

He confessed immediately that he was not a great public speaker and then sat down for a one-hour casual chat with coffee and croissants in what was an actual conversation. He spoke of growing from an actor to a producer with financial responsibilities. He explained that the standard Vietnamese film was called an "instant noodle soup movie" because it was cheap, easy to make, and had pre-mixed ingredients. A $500,000 budget would be average for a Vietnamese film. But as a producer, he needs to do better than that. A three million dollar film in Vietnam would be "big budget." 

Consider Bill Murray's character in Lost in Translation trying to give the the right Rat Pack delivery to his line for a whiskey commercial. Nguyen talked about all the client massaging needed for paid product placement sponsors. How many seconds on the whiskey bottle will be needed? How do you write a scene into a gangster film to make a TV sponsor happy? And nobody asked a single question about Johnny Depp.

Duston Nguyen II 2011.jpg
Dustin Nguyen fled Vietnam to the United States with his parents in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. Both his parents were actors and he studied acting in college, landing his first TV appearance while still in school. Coming home to continue the family legacy seemed only the natural thing to do.

The creative community in Vietnam is young and energetic but mostly raised on creating copies and imitations. To have a real Hollywood star come in and sit down for a chat about creating high quality original work was a real coup for the group. Of the event, held at a local ad agency, one attendee said, "A great idea. Dustin was a fantastic start - honest, unpretentious, and informative. A good and ironic mix: a talk promoting nothing within a space whose survival depends on promotion."

(Photos: Mads Monsen)

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David has spent most of his career in advertising. That alone should call his writing skills into question. David currently writes the Wild Wild East Dailies from Saigon but has trouble seeing the forest for the trees because it's a jungle out there.

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