Splitting the Eye of the Tourniquet (2021)

A Feature Film in Development

SPLITTING THE EYE OF THE TOURNIQUET is about the irrepressible traumas of a Vietnamese-American man who tears apart the skin of memories searching for agency and redemption in a spiritual wasteland. Michael, the story’s anti-hero, journeys from an unexpected friendship with his recently immigrated half-brother, falls unwittingly into the snares of sadomasochistic violence, is jolted into existential awakenings by prison, and returns to society under the spectra of that same half-brother who is now mentally ill.

The story stretches across three interwoven time-narratives that begin as an eruption of story-fragments and implodes to cohere as a fully formed image. The first narrative covers roughly half a decade of Michael’s life in which his self-rehabilitation is severely challenged by random encounters with his half-brother, Khanh. The second narrative circumscribes the three years of time starting from his incarceration to his release, and through the demise of a tormented love affair with a woman from his violent past. The third narrative is a tightly compressed chamber of one night in which the half-brothers visit a drug-trafficking maniac, David, and find themselves sucked into the quicksand of psychological games.

In the first time-narrative, Michael balances on his fingertips the notion of individual sovereignty through repression and the implementation of structure. While steadily climbing the professional ranks as a car salesman, he is haunted by encounters with Khanh who is now a mentally ill transient. It is here that the first seams of rehabilitation come undone. Over the years he finds the encounters to be unshakable and the exchanges to cut deeper into the nerves of his past. In the midst of these spiritual hauntings, Michael wins the trust of his boss at the dealership and is offered a life-changing opportunity to participate in the criminal enterprises concealed behind the family owned business.

In the second time-narrative, our anti-hero is incarcerated in a state prison as a consequence of his participation in the violence at David’s house. In prison, he is driven to claw and climb over the walls of heroin addiction and existential entropy by the violent and despairing lessons of primal survival. His meeting with Billy, a fellow inmate would alter the course of his life as the man imparts to him the Nietzschean idea of “will to power.” Upon his release, Michael seeks out Patricia, the woman at the center of the nightmare in David’s home and the immutable object of his affection. Their entangled histories and physical chemistries launch the pair into a brief but fiery affair that ends devastatingly. Hitting rock bottom once again, he grabs onto the life-line Billy casts during his final days in prison and beseeches him at his family-owned car dealership. With a new job and a fresh beginning, Michael is set on the path of self-rehabilitation.

In the third and final time-narrative, Michael and Khanh find themselves fallen into the crucible of psychological games executed by David, a man strangely devoted to controlling the principles of pain and pleasure in others but particularly in his long time lover, Patricia. When the brothers pay a visit to David’s home to purchase crystal meth and experience the dangerously mercurial entertainment promised in an evening there, they are quickly drawn into the fold of hyper excess and radical deviance. What percolates at the beginning of their night and explodes in a chain of violence in the end is David and Patricia’s sadomasochistic conceit. As the night draws on, unbeknownst to Michael is the role that he will play in this fantasy; and when a petty theft committed by Khanh is uncovered, the lattice of games unravel and the dimensions of desire collapse into pure dissonance.

Each of these narrative threads are seamlessly woven together to become a singular story of the fight for agency in an unforgiving world, existential freedom within the systems of control, and reason in an irrational spiral of memory. Each thread grows in illumination at the points in which they intersect one another and the light cast is reflected back onto itself to reach toward the perennial questions: What is the essential “freedom” of the human being? What are the true limits of individual sovereignty under the rule of law? How does a person assume existential responsibility in the face of horror? Does the repression of an impulse or memory merely lead to its sublimated manifestation?

Inspired by the experimental spirit of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, the stark and brutal honesty of Lars Von Trier and Michael Haneke, the exquisite aesthetics of Asian directors such as Wong Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love) and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), and the hard-boiled entertainment of Quentin Tarantino, SPLITTING THE EYE OF THE TOURNIQUET is a bold cinematic vision. The film unapologetically asserts madness and ambiguity as a genesis for its antiheroes and the language of the film itself, and then carefully shapes temporal fragmentation into startling revelations. Akin to an obsession-forming mental puzzle, “Splitting the Eye” is a meditation on the nature of trauma, memory, and perception.

For inquires and investment opportunities, contact Vu Pham