You may know Maria Tran from the hit TV series King of the Cross and Fat Pizza: Back in Business. But in the new Australian action thriller Echo 8, the Vietnamese-Australian actor not only stars in the film but co-directed it too.
The film was recently screened at the Art Gallery of NSW as part of the Badlands series, which featured rebellious films spanning revisionist westerns, samurai films, wuxia (martial arts) cinema, Blaxploitation, and New Hollywood.
Echo 8 is a modern take on immigrant stories that packs a punch. It tells the story of a highly trained assassin (Tran) who finds herself in a strange house with no memory of how she got there. She’s lost in between a nightmarish dream and her reality in a secret underground organisation. When her latest mission involves killing a grieving mother, she discovers that her target is closer to home than she realises.
Filmed across multiple locations in Western Sydney – including Cabramatta, Fairfield, Villawood, Bankstown, and Liverpool – the action feels like it’s taking place right in our backyards. It featured multiple Asian-Australian actors and crew members, had scenes at local Asian businesses, and paid homage to some of the simple pleasures of growing up in Western Sydney like grabbing a late night kebab.
‘Without the community, there would have been no film,’ Tran told ScreenHub. ‘The community played a vital role in the success of [the] film, both in terms of support and resources, as well as helping to create a sense of connection and engagement with the project.’
Echo 8 was written in just ten days by Elizabeth H. Vu and co-directed by Takashi Hara. It was shot on a $10,000 budget and incorporated intricate fight sequences. The action sequences are an integral part of what makes the female-led film so great and innovative for the Australian film landscape. Tran considered the film as ‘somewhat of an outlier in terms of how movies are typically made in Australia, as it took on the complex action thriller genre that typically requires significant resources to produce’.
The film has won several awards at film festivals across Asia including Best Feature Animation or Live Action at the Tokyo Film Awards and Best Feature Film at the World Film Carnival in Singapore.
Despite being awarded Best Picture at the 2023 Melbourne Cineverse Film Festival, Tran said Echo 8 struggled to gain attention from local festival programmers. She added that the film ‘has faced criticism and pushback in Australia, with some viewing it as exploitative and challenging the established structures of film production in the country’.
But this is what makes the film so enjoyable to watch. It breaks the mainstream ‘rules’ of the migrant storytelling conventions in Australia. It provides a framework for how filmmakers can create their own films – short or feature length – on a low budget and do it their way.
Tran believes films have the power to influence and shape public opinion, which is why they can be an effective tool for social change. ‘They can bring attention to important social issues and help to raise awareness of marginalised communities and their struggles,’ she said.
She went on to describe her love of the action film genre for many reasons including the challenge of having women from diverse backgrounds participate in it and ‘how to subvert the genre and provide thought provoking stories’. It’s how Tran has put her own spin on the genre that makes Echo 8 so compelling.
Looking ahead, Tran has plans to create a prequel and sequel to the film. But she shared her tips for creating a successful film on a budget, which requires a mix of careful planning, resourcefulness, and creativity.
‘With a well-written script, talented actors and crew, affordable equipment, and a willingness to work hard, you can create a film that has the ability to shape society, stimulate the imagination and ultimately change the world.’
Echo 8 was screened as part of the Women Media Arts Film Festival at Macquarie University on 7 May.