Vietnam-born French filmmaker Tran Anh Hung’s third feature film, the final part of his“Vietnam trilogy” after his Oscar-nominated debut THE SCENT OF THE GREEN PAPAYA (1993), and Golden Lion winner CYCLO (1995). Lifted from the day-to-day material hurdles in Hanoi, THE VERTICAL RAY OF THE SUN takes a close look of a family’s four siblings, Lien (Tran Nu Yên-Khê, Tran’s muse-cum-wife), the youngest of the brood, barely holds back the crush on her elder brother Hai (Quang Hai Ngo), meantime, her two married elder sisters Suong (Nhu Quynh Nguyen) and Khanh (Le Khanh), have their own marital hitches to come up for.
What instantly catches a viewer’s eyes is Tran’s chromatic keynote, a verdant surrounding perpetually peopled with botanical delights, oriental quaintness and dribbles with tropical humidityagainst a blistering summer and occasional downpours,every gesticulation throbs with libidinous impulse and moist intimacy, and is in sharp contrast to various characters’monotonous intonation and po-faced diction. Bookending the film with two anniversaries of their parents’ respective deaths, Tran’s slo-paced story entrusts audience to embark on an ennui-soaked, voyeurism-like sojourn pointing up the consanguineous sisterhood and the retiring inscape of his protagonists that is typically of Far Eastern make-up.
Suong’s husband Quoc (Chu Hung) has another family residing in a floating bamboo house on a mountainside river and dithers about which one to settle with, meanwhile, Suong engages in an extramarital affair with another man but keeps things strictly physically (it is told in an evasive manner, we are tempted to formulate our own idea of the affair, whether it is a past fling as she confides in Khanh one night or concomitant with the current time-line); Khanh herself, is discovered pregnant with her first child, but a casual discovery suddenly damps her expectant mood as she suspects that her writer’s-block afflicted husband Kien (Manh Cuong Tran) might cheat on her during his recent trip to Ho Chi Minh City. As for the young Lien, her incestuous proclivity is tantalized but nothing actualizes (from a knowingly ambiguous Hai), so she has to slake her desire elsewhere, which results in a blatant misapprehension lightening up the trepidation, pathos driven ending.
Garnished with an eclectic soundtrack (including several Lou Reed's tunes),THE VERTICAL RAY OF THE SUN formulates a fragrantdreamscape that can soothe one's jaded eyes, assuage one's numb ears and placate one's troubled minds, an escapist haven from a robust filmmaker who has reached a certain measurement of maturity in his style, but at the same time, indulgence is manifestly looming around.
referential point:Tran Anh Hung’s THE SCENT OF THE GREEN PAPAYA (1993, 8.2/10).