by Greg Muskewitz
“Three Seasons” was the first American film ever to be shot in Vietnam. First time director Tony Bui makes an impressionable film about soul searching; those trying to find peace, happiness, and understanding in their lives. Using five main characters, he intertwines them in their searches: a cyclo driver, a call girl, a marine, a flower picker, and a little boy.It’s current day Vietnam. Hai (Don Duong) is a cyclo driver; he makes his living by driving people around in mini-carriage on the front of his bicycle. While sitting around waiting for a customer with his cyclo-driving friends, a frenzied young woman comes running out of a building, screaming for him to get ready. As the two make their way along, we find out that this lady, Kien An (Zoë Bui), is a call girl. From the beginning, as Hai rides Kien An to her rough part of town, we see his attraction to her.
"In this you will find true beauty and elegance."
Many times Hai will follow her to the hotel in which she accompanies her paying suitor, and will sit outside reading until she comes out so he can give her a ride home.
Kien An doesn’t like her profession, but she knows she must continue it to make ends meet. Mostly she enjoys staying at the big expensive hotels, but her main rule of thumb is that she doesn’t stay nights.
While sitting around and waiting for passengers, Hai can’t help but notice an American, James Hager (Harvey Keitel), who just seems to have nothing better to do than sit around in the sidewalk in a fold-out beach chair and sip on soda or beer. We later find out James is there to patch up a hole in his life –to see and meet the daughter he never knew he had. A former marine, when James used to be stationed there during the war, he was in love with a young Vietnamese woman. Upon finding out of the woman’s death and the fact that she bore his child, he is there to try and meet her and apologize for never finding out all of the facts.
One of the male figures that hung around the exteriors of the hotels in which Kien An might be staying, in fact happens not to be a man, but a little boy –maybe no more than 7 or 8-years-old. His name is Woody (Huu Duoc Nguyen), a kind of little peddler, who at the evening and night hours of the day, stands outside hotels with a suitcase calling in his best English, “Cigarettes, gum, watches.” One night while inside a bar, Woody’s case is stolen, and his father won’t permit him inside the house until he finds it.
Lastly is the story of Lan (Ngoc Hiep Nguyen), a very young and very attractive lotus picker. Highly recommended for her skills and abilities, Lan is newly hired by Teacher Dao (Mahn Cuong Tran), owner of a large pond full of blossoming lotuses. Dao stays in a cabin in the middle of the pond where nobody ever sees him. Many of the elderly pickers rumor that he died many years ago. But one day while singing, Dao sends for her at night. At first he doesn’t want Lan to see him, he is badly disfigured by leprosy disease. But eventually, as he opens up, Dao has Lan write the lyrics to poems he is unable to write because over time he has also lost his fingers. A bond is formed between the two –the ones who feel out of place.
“Three Seasons” is a beautifully told story; it’s quaint and quiet, but it’s imaginative and thoughtful. The story doesn’t cover new ground, but it does it in a peaceful way. The characters are all very simple, they’re portrayed in the most humanly way possible. They are no preposterous super-humans, no mutants, no geniuses and no dummies; these people are just the average “you and me.” What makes this movie so delightful was its simplicity. It’s a thoughtful tale of finding yourself, love and happiness. Both Timothy and Tony Bui warmly captured the spirit of the people, and by the end of the movie, the main characters have in someway or another come into contact with the others in a believable way. The Bui’s carefully thread the story lines together without the unbelievability like “Playing By Heart,” or say “Pulp Fiction.” My only real complaint is that I felt that the story line containing Harvey Keitel’s character was somewhat underdeveloped. I felt like there was more we needed to know about him.
The cinematography is some of the most beautiful in years! The scene in which Kien An stands in the middle of the street as reddish petals fall from the trees is one of the most gorgeous single scenes I’ve ever seen. “Three Seasons” also contains a glorious soundtrack. Before the film, Landmark La Jolla plays the film’s score as you sit in the auditorium. I fear that “Three Seasons” may not be around for much longer, so catch it while you still can. The film contains to many wonderful qualities; this deserves not to be missed! This is a film to brag about! (In Vietnamese with English subtitles. However, scenes with Keitel are in English.)Final Verdict: A.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1569&reviewer=172
originally posted: 12/18/00 17:29:10