The hip-hop dancer, TV talent-show judge, video producer, illustrator, artist and fashion designer talks to Simon Stanley to Viet Max about his life, his career and his many, many talents. Photo by Ben Turner.
Congratulations on the release of your first movie (2015’s Love: Yeu). Is there anything you can’t turn your hand to?
Everybody thinks I am a ‘do everything’ type of person, but to me it’s all a circle, and that circle is art; it’s all the same. I’m always looking for some other form of expression. I am lucky to have succeeded in everything that I’ve tried so far, but my main passions are still fashion, hip-hop and film.
You began your career as a dancer. How were you first introduced to hip-hop?
I got into it in 1992 even though I didn’t know it at the time. Back then, me and all of the other dancers in Vietnam were just copying moves from the international music videos we’d see on TV. We didn’t know what hip-hop was until around the year 2000 when dialup internet started to arrive in Vietnam.
The internet must have been really slow back then?
Yeah, it was slow, but it was enough for us to start looking into what kind of dancing we were doing. Can you believe it? We were dancing for almost 10 years without knowing that it was hip-hop.
How did you progress to making music videos of your own?
I wanted to start recording my performances and those of my friends, so I bought a camera and just started filming. I taught myself everything. Some of my singer friends had low budgets for their music videos so I helped them out and started to build my portfolio. I later got into viral clips, TV commercials and then the movie.t
Tell me about your fashion label (and store) Peace United Street Wear (PUSW) ?
PUSW was the name for my regular hip-hop events. Back in 2000, if you wanted to purchase hip-hop fashion products it was really difficult. Everything was either a very expensive import or it was fake, or centred on Chinese or Thai hip-hop. So I asked myself, ‘why don’t you just create a line of your own here in Vietnam?’ It started with designing and printing T-shirts to sell at my PUSW events. I had to finance these myself so it was another way to make money. It just grew from there.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Getting married. That would be my greatest success. My little family has changed my life dramatically. Everything became so much more positive after that.
You’ve brought your two-year-old son along with you today. I think we’ve done well not to wake him up. How do you manage to balance your career with family life?
My life is my family and my career, so it’s all combined. As an artist I’m very fortunate to not have any boundaries or set times that I must go to work. Creativity comes to me all the time. It might be as simple as watching how a random person on the street moves around, or when I’m watching cartoons on TV with my son and one of the characters captures my imagination. I might then apply that idea to a T-shirt design, for example.
Your own father was a painter. What did you learn from him?
My family was split up when I was five years old. My dad went overseas and later relocated to Hoi An. I always really missed the inspiration that I could have gained from him. Yes, I have his art in my blood, but I learnt nothing from him; there was no connection there. When I had the phone call to go and see him before he died, I flew all the way there but I missed him again. It was too late.
What does 2016 have in store for you?
My next goal is to expand, to take my fashion brand overseas. I’d also like to write a book or make a documentary film about the history of Vietnamese hip-hop, and I’m on the lookout for another great film script.
So what would be your one piece of advice to youngsters trying to get into the performing arts or creative industries?
Stay away from the Internet. In some ways it’s good, but the youngsters nowadays rely too much on it. To learn a new dance move, for example, they just go on YouTube. Dancing is not only about the move but also about how you feel, how you transfer that feeling to the move and how you transfer that to the audience. What you learn from YouTube is about somebody else, not about you.