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Overall Rating
4.5

Awesome70%
Worth A Look: 20%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 10%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 4 user ratings


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Vertical Ray of the Sun, The
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by Greg Muskewitz

"The beauty is so abundant, the title cannot even contain itself."
5 stars

Too much time in between is never good. I say that in reference to the time from I saw The Vertical Ray of the Sun until now when it is finally being released, a full three months of movies, travelling, life, et al., to add an unnecessary haze to the film itself. But no haze is strong enough to make you forget how good of a film this is.

With a little erudition of the press notes, one is easily enough put back on track. From the director of Scent of the Green Papaya and Cyclo, Tran Anh Hung returns to the French producing studio Le Studio Canal + to once again gently re-root us to the quotidian life in the humble milieu of Vietnam. In the simplistic but genial story, we are given three grown-up sisters minding their way through the individual and unique vicissitudes that all would be expected to faced with. Young Liên (Tran Nu Yên-Khé, the director’s beatific wife, and star of his films) lives with her young brother Hai (Ngô Quanq Hai) and has a penchant for sneaking into his bed to keep warm. The two look like a couple (so they say, as do others who inquisitively ask in mistake) and often even act like it. Born within close proximity of each other (same day, one year apart, I think; though that would definitely putative since I don’t have any verification in my notes or in the kit), she wishes that her boyfriend would be more like her brother. Along with her two older sisters—Khanh (Lê Khanh), the middle sister, and Suong (Nguyen Nhu Quynh), the eldest—they have gathered at the family owned café in remembrance of their mother’s death one year ago. The blood family is very tight, and as they ruminate over the past, we are treated to goldmine facts like how their father died only one month later, because he and his wife were so close that he couldn’t live without her. However, for all’s well on the surface, there is so much more iracund underneath. Suong, who has been having something of a kinky affair for some time, is coming to the end of her run, though she has no idea about her husband’s other wife in the countryside that he sneaks off to see and the child they have together. (Suong also has a child from her husband.) Khanh’s problems are nil for a while, but her husband Kiên (Tran Manh Cuong) is suffering writer’s block with the ending of his novel. He goes away to finish it, almost bowing into an affair of his own, while Khanh is secretly pregnant. Hung is a very punctilious director; he doesn’t make the conventions of everyday life exciting—lest not in the blood-surging rush that one may get from an fx movie—but he makes those daily rituals and functions feel refreshing and enlivening (i.e., getting up in the morning, opening the blinds, stretching the muscles, turning on the stereo, etc.). The Vertical Ray of the Sun is unabashedly ripe with insight and germane truths, fresh and pure as if plucked from one of the trees in their backyards. (One of the most beautiful lines of dialogue comes from Liên as she sits across from her brother at an eatery. She tells him, “Let me sit next to you so we can see the same things”; but he would rather dismiss her as trying to be cutesy and draw attention to the fact that they look like a couple.) Hung isn’t concerned with the trivial aspect of things, nor does he weigh down the film—always remaining as light as a ray of the sun—with morals or preachy pretext. The feeling that I came most away with upon my initial viewing of Scent of the Green Papaya was how much it did not feel like a cinematic experience, but rather like a real life first-hand experience, but not like a documentary either. It simply felt like a slice of real life. Hung has the ability to pull you, to remove you from your surroundings, no matter where they be—in a theater, in front of the television—and physically and emotionally place you with his creations. And the creations, his characters, hardly seem like something that one would have to reach forth to muster up, but are far more complex than an outline of realistic traits. Last week I noted that director Michael Cuesta did not judge his characters in L.I.E. even though some of them acted out in inappropriate ways, or were true monsters, but Hung takes the philosophy to another level, without the hardcore questionable flaws (although maybe adultery is hardcore, at least juxtaposed to hebephilia, it seems impertinent), and in his irenic stance, he lets the characters and their actions speak for themselves. Tran Nu Yên-Khé is absolutely amazing in her role. She is probably one of the most beautiful actresses ever to be captured on celluloid, and it could not be any more spectacular that it is Mark Lee Ping-Bin who has been recruited by Hung to photograph the film. Ping-Bin is a customary collaborator with director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, who lastly won my award for best cinematography for HHH’s Flowers of Shanghai, and who has also worked with Wong Kar-wai in the past. Ping-Bin’s compositions and usage of luscious and deep hues are unmistakable. He commands so much feeling and warmth through his lenses that simply transcend the art of photography and situates him in an almost unchallengeable and unrivaled position. I seethe with jealousy that the bulk of Hsiao-Hsien’s work is not available in the U.S.—theatrically or for home-viewing—if not out of excitement for the director himself, then surely for Ping-Bin’s cinematography. While Tran Nu Yên-Khé doesn’t look a day older than she looked in Papaya in 1994 (!), within her composure, she does appear more mature and more settled into her looks and manners. It is quite understandable how she facilely melts through the cinematography. The other actors have similar qualities, all very esteemed and auspicious, but nothing that can quite compete with Hung’s screen-fidelity to his wife. The Vertical Ray of the Sun, like a real life glimpse of that action of the sun during an impenetrable moist evening or morning hue, is a thing of superlative beauty, one to be witnessed, and one to be felt. It will reverberate around in your mouth and bones for a while afterwards.

With Chu Ngoc Hung, Le Tuan Anh and Lê Van Lôc.

Final Verdict: A-.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5348&reviewer=172
originally posted: 09/29/01 01:07:09
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User Comments

1/01/03 Andy Todes c'mon guys, this was horrible. (and i love foreign films.) 2 stars
10/22/01 Roxsy beautiful visuals and sensitive acting, seductive story 4 stars
10/13/01 Carly visually stunning, but still feels like yet another story about sexually repressed asians 4 stars
9/13/01 guisada beautiful film. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  06-Jul-2001 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  27-Sep-2001 (PG)


Directed by
  Anh Hung Tran

Written by
  Anh Hung Tran

Cast
  Tran Nu Yên-Khê
  Nhu Quynh Nguyen
  Le Khanh
  Quang Hai Ngo



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