By Stephanie Ornelas
(L-R) Kenner Bolt, Brendon Boyea, Hiep Tran Nghia, Sing J. Lee, Andy Sorgie and Dustin Nguyen attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “The Accidental Getaway Driver” Premiere at Eccles Center Theatre in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Sometimes the things we need most are found in the most unexpected places.
One might think by reading the synopsis of Sing J. Lee’s first feature film, The Accidental Getaway Driver, that it’s a heist film that’s fast-paced and full of chaos, but it’s actually so much more.
In this film based on a true story, Hiệp Trần Nghĩa plays Long, an elderly Vietnamese immigrant who works as a cab driver in Orange County, California, and is paid double for a late night pickup. Things take a turn when he quickly becomes the getaway driver for three escaped prisoners, and not by choice. Held at gunpoint and fearing for his life, he’s forced to taxi the convicts around Orange County as they try to avoid getting picked up again and come up with a plan to escape for good.
When Long starts to develop a friendly relationship with one of the convicts, Tây (Dustin Nguyen), tension builds up between the group, and Long is left wondering about his fate.
Nghĩa delivers a warm and captivating performance of a lonely man who needs companionship but does not know where to find it — nor does he think he deserves it.
“This is the first time I’ve had such an important role, and I really appreciate that. It makes me cry,” a visibly emotional Nghĩa says during the post-premiere Q&A at the Eccles Theatre in Park City.
And his scenes with Nguyen flow so well, it’s almost as if they are family in real life. Nguyen plays a troubled Tây who longs for a father figure and is searching for more than an escape from his prison life. Like Long, he’s also unsure what’s in store for his life and the future.
“I immediately saw four human beings in this story that embody so many parts of my own family, life experiences, and things I’ve observed. Seeing my parents in them, whether it was pain or humor, I saw something so tender and fragile that I haven’t seen so much in the West. I just felt this drive to create something with this story,” explains Lee.
“When I started working with all of these brilliant people, they gave a year of their life before we went into pre-production to rehearse. My intention for the first few months was just to share personal experiences together to see if we would all connect.”
Director of photography Michael Cambio Fernandez finds a way to insert the viewer into a stressful kidnapping — allowing us to see and feel all of the emotions passing through Long, Tây, and the other escapees — by providing a lens that puts us in the car and in the motel room. There’s also a sense of healing as we see a new relationship with a father-son dynamic emerge between Long and Tây, the cinematography always showing the exact emotions that many of us can relate to.
The film is a beautiful story of two troubled souls who find each other in the most unexpected way. The film is quiet, but silence speaks volumes throughout The Accidental Getaway Driver, as it shows the loneliness and fear both Long and Tây have felt throughout their lives.
“This film has universal themes that I really hope will connect everyone together,” says Nguyen. “It’s been a privilege, and I’m very thankful to Sing for letting me be a part of this project.”