Thursday, August 30, 2012

Vincent Lam's "The Headmaster's Wager"

Dr. Vincent Lam is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, and was born in Canada. Dr. Lam did his medical training in Toronto, and is an emergency physician in Toronto. He is a Lecturer with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. He has also worked in international air evacuation and expedition medicine on Arctic and Antarctic ships.

Lam's first book, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has recently been adapted for television and broadcast on HBO Canada. Dr. Lam co-authored The Flu Pandemic And You, a non-fiction guide to influenza pandemics.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of The Headmaster’s Wager, his first novel:
The Headmaster’s Wager is set in the Chinese community of Cholon, which was once a sister city to Saigon. Percival Chen is an English school headmaster and a compulsive gambler. We follow his adventures, loves, and losses over a period that spans from the Second World War, through the end of the French colonial era in Vietnam, into the closing chapters of the Vietnam War.

With various armies coming and going, political leaders shuffled like cards in a deck, and disaster or immense wealth often potentially just around the corner, people who lived through that era in Vietnam experienced the kinds of plot twists that most of us only witness in feature film. Vietnamese and Chinese, French and Americans were all torn between the forces of colonialism and independence, tradition and modernity, east and west, and finally capitalism and communism. This was the volatile mix of that era. The actors in the film adaptation of The Headmaster’s Wager should be able to portray these tensions. Many of the best actors now working in Asia will come to this intuitively – because the Asian cultural scene is actively grappling with these issues both in what it represents, and how it represents it.

Tony Leung will play my protagonist, Percival Chen. Tony will portray the kind of cool self-regard that allows a man to accept both his own temptations – and their fulfillment – with total equanimity, as does Percival Chen. The on-screen vibe is "Buddhist calm meets the moral vacuum of lust and hedonism."

Maggie Cheung will play Percival’s wife, Cecilia, the heiress to a shipping empire which is lost to the Japanese Imperial Army after the fall of Hong Kong in World War Two. Maggie will perfectly embody Cecilia’s brittle and yet self-assured beauty. Cecilia later becomes a successful black market money trader, which is a role I know Maggie will pull off in a cinch. Tony and Maggie have tangled on-screen before and I can’t wait to see this riff continue.

Han Han, a Chinese novelist, intermittent magazine publisher, and professional race-car driver for Volkswagen, will play Dai Jai, the son of Percival and Cecilia. Han Han’s only acting experience is that he played himself in a film called, I Wish I Knew. That’s fine. He can basically play himself as Dai Jai, because Dai Jai is an irreverent, intelligent, and unpredictable young man who attracts attention even as he scorns it, just like Han Han. Also, Dai Jai becomes embroiled in the Cultural Revolution in China. I bet Han Han has a few thoughts on this that he might like to share. (I’m also pretty sure that Han Han would deny that suggestion, so why not channel it through film?)

Percival’s best friend, Mak, is a teacher in Percival’s profitable English school. Mak will be played by Byron Mann. Byron plays a bad dude opposite Russell Crowe in the upcoming film The Man With The Iron Fists. He also plays a naïve, good-hearted doctor in the TV adaptation of Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (I wrote that book, too!) The point is that Byron is able to dish out both martial arts and melting stares. He is ideal for playing, concealing, and revealing the many faces of Mak. Once you finish reading the novel, you’ll know exactly why this is so important.

What about Jacqueline, the mysteriously sexy, French-Vietnamese beauty who captures the heart of every reader of The Headmaster’s Wager? Obviously, this role must go to Tran Nu Yên-Khê. Her performances in The Scent of Green Papaya and The Vertical Ray of the Sun are stunning. We will watch, captive with admiration and desire in the quietly simmering portrayal of Jacqueline that she will deliver.
Learn more about the book and author at Vincent Lam's website.

--Marshal Zeringue