The first time I heard Trần Anh Hùng's name was while watching a SMAP guesting on Utaban. Kimura Takuya, or KimuTaku as Jpop fans like to call him, was telling a story about how he was offered a role with Josh Hartnett. KimuTaku said that his manager asked him if he wanted to do it or not, without even telling him what he would be deciding on. His manager then told him that he'd give him a DVD of a movie of the director trying to poach him for his movie. That night, his manager gave him the DVD of The Scent of Green Papaya. After seeing the movie, he couldn't say no. And that's how KimuTaku went to Mindanao, Philippines the following month to shoot the movie, I Come with the Rain. (To the detriment of a lot of fangirls because they didn't know KimuTaku had graced our native land with his gorgeousness until it was too late).
Going back to the original topic, Trần Anh Hùng is a Vietnamese director with very limited Filmography. I was so surprised to see how short the list was the first time I read him up. The Scent of Green Papaya was his very first feature length movie. Before that, he only had 2 short films. After three Vietnamese full length films, he got an international project with a stellar international cast. And most recently, Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood.
With that information, I picked up his movies (at that time, Norwegian Wood Film was still but an idea). I saw I Come with the Rain first, and was scandalized by the imagery of that movie. It is not for the faint of heart. Kept me from watching the other movies, in fear that it might be the same.
When a copy of Norwegian Wood came passing by, I couldn't help looking him up in the San Francisco Library system. The library has three of his movies, but only two were in DVD format. I reserved it, borrowed it and now I'm done watching The Scent of Green Papaya and The Vertical Ray of The Sun.
(If you want synopsis, I suggest you click on the link that leads to the Wiki)
This one seemed to have a looooooong act one (same can be said about my blog entries). We see the young girl's life and her daily activities as a servant, her interactions with the family (most interesting character, for me, would be the naughty youngest son). The girl rarely says a word out, and I guess, that in itself makes her a serene character; which in effect makes the movie serene, as well.
As much as the movie was focused on Mui, it wasn't really character driven. Mui's character just rode the flow of her destiny.
Now, that DESTINY, that was slightly unsettling for me. By the end of the movie, I realized, it was just Cinderella in 1950s Vietnam.
What does it really tell us? If you're an obedient and uncomplaining servant, you would eventually find a prince who will fight traditions and family for you? I know, I know ... that may not be exactly what the auteur director wanted us to take home from this movie. But, despite the movie's beautiful stylistics, it is what it is.
It was a let down for me. I had really high expectations after the reviews I've heard. But, that's just for the story. As for being a Director -- I cannot deny the genius that is Trần Anh Hùng. There is a reason why he is a Cannes darling; and why, despite having done too few projects, he can command and demand a cast with Tom-Cruise-like status (in their respective countries, of course).
Would I buy the DVD: depends on how much I like Cyclo. I like Vertical Ray a lot. If I like Cyclo, I'd buy Papaya to complete the Vietnam trilogy. I have a thing for trilogies. It's a status symbol for directors you see. Most of my fave directors have had trilogies: Wong Kar Wai had one; Park Chan Wook had one; Andrew Lau had one; Peter Jackson had one; Chris Nolan will complete his soon; even Asiong Aksaya had a trilogy LOL.
Would I pimp it: (does this blog entry count?) YES. You'd understand more when you read my review of Vertical Rays, which I will post tomorrow because I need to sleep and it takes me too damn long to write something.
This movie, I give three onigiri out of five; because I'm not happy, but I'm not sorry either.