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[Movie #2] Trần Anh Hùng -- The Vertical Ray of the Sun

You can borrow this from
the San Francisco Library System
The Vertical Ray of the Sun is Trần Anh Hùng's last Vietnamese movie (yet). It speaks of Vietnamese women's  traditional roles in family settings. And whilst holding on to this front and keeping the image expected of them, they slip into their secrets and back again, without stirring even a single ripple in their pellucid life.


Being the focal point of this story, the three sisters are  representations of the Three Faces of Eve. However, it was a tad too literal, almost as literal as Ah! My Godess's representation. 


Suong is the eldest and the seductress, the Urd of this story. Although, to the public, she is the loving, faithful and loyal wife of an absentee husband; in her alternate life, she is the lover of a businessman whose heart she breaks over and over.


The middle sister, Khanh, is the loving and quiet wife of a novelist struggling from writer's block. She is Belldandy in this setting. Even though, she suspects her husband cheating on her while she's pregnant and he's away for research, she quietly caries the burden alone like the ideal Eve that she represents. 

The third, Lien, she's the epitome of capricious innocence; the Skuld; the child (portrayed by then 32-year-old Tran Nu Yen Khe). Perpetually looking up to her sisters, she incessantly imagine herself pregnant to the delusion of being one. Her naivete is best seen at the end of the movie, through the revelations. 



Like Papaya, Vertical Ray has a serene tempo. However, it's more upbeat compared to the former film, to blend well with the contemporary setting of the piece. The story begins on the day of their mother's death anniversary. However, for me, the story started when their mother fell in love with a certain school mate but mistook their eventual-father for him. It was a plant for what the sisters would be showing throughout the one-month setting of the film. Like their mother before them, they have secrets they keep to themselves to protect their image as a wife.


There was nothing really different with Vertical Ray's cinematography. It's just as beautiful as Papaya. Though, Papaya was shot in a sound stage, while Vertical (as well as Cyclo) were shot on location in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, one can see that TAH's direction was so strong; that as simple minded as I am, I didn't even notice the difference. Ha Long Bay is like Palawan, in looks, I want to go there, one day.


I'm a little confused over the the intimate love scenes with Suong and her businessman lover. No, not confused in the common meaning of the word, but by how I should feel about it. It wasn't tasteful and romantic, far from it really. However, the realism of the love scenes made it impossible to be disgusting; I'm usually disgusted by many gratuitous love scenes, however romantic, in American movies -- i.e. The Departed as compared to the lack thereof in it's original version, Infernal Affairs.

Suong's story made the movie gold. For that alone, this movie was worth watching. 


Would I buy the DVD? Yes, definitely. Eventually. It's one of those things, I'd want my daughter to see before she gets married.


Would I pimp it? As an intro movie to Trần Anh Hùng, I believe Papaya would still be the best movie to start with. For cultural and feminist pegs, along side The Joy Luck Club, YES. A big bold YES


I give Vertical Ray four Onigiri out of five. I'd give it a half, if I can find a half-eaten-onigiri pixel art. It's not perfect, but it does cement Trần Anh Hùng's status as one of the best contemporary Asian directors. That, and I'm more likely to be bored by Ang Lee's old movies than his.






On a personal note:  The flood scene brought me quite a nostalgia. I have never seen a bigger flood than Mandaluyong, Philippines flood -- and I'm not counting Ondoy (Ketsana). Suddenly, even the Philippine flood looks more awesome and made me miss my home country.


Speaking of the Philippines, we also have a movie with similar theme: Kaleldo, by Brillante Mendoza. In comparison, Mendoza's take on complicated sisters was more over-thought than that of Trần's. Kaleldo is as melodramatic as every story conceptualized in Philippine mainstream cinema. 


But, that's just my opinion. And that's another movie to review.
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