May 2nd, 2023 at 1:28 pm#1682
#1: The Third Wife (Ash Mayfair, 2018)
Clocking in at 1hr 36mins, The Third Wife - or Vợ ba in Vietnamese - is a dreamy, slow-paced simmering piece of eye candy that feels more like fevered daydreams than a coherent narrative. Set sometime during the 19th century in rural northern Vietnam, it follows the story of 14-year-old May who becomes the third wife of a landowner whose primary business appears to be silk harvesting.
With a straightforward plotline such as that, the movie is very unexpectedly intimate in quiet, sensual ways. May's marriage and relationship with the landowner is quickly done away with - we witness their marriage, and subsequent consummation, within minutes of beginning the movie, with the latter expressed in a very symbolic manner. Instead, most of the movie revolves around May and the other two wives, her relationship with them, and everything else surrounding them, revealing an intricate web of emotions and desires, akin to the fragile silk worm cocoons from which the silk is hence harvested.
However, that was it. The movie is, at its core, very much a character study - a lot of observing, gazing, presenting of situations and emotions through the usage of symbolism and sceneries. (Skip this section if you do not want to be spoiled.) It ends as quietly as it begins - May getting married off, May discovering her own sensuality through the teachings of the second wife, May witnessing her infidelity with the son of the first wife, May realizing her own budding feelings for the second wife as she herself is now pregnant, May praying to Buddha for a son - as that would grant her favor with the landowner - only to be crushed with guilt when the first wife miscarries soon thereafter; and then, finally, May experiencing heartbreaks as she not only gives birth to a daughter, but is also thoroughly rejected by the second wife who says that she sees May "nothing more than a daughter".
I tried really hard to like this movie. It seemed to have all the elements that would ensure it to become a new fixed favorite of mine. But, somehow, as beautifully it sparkled in the milky morning light of Vietnam's lush, green fields, it just completely fell flat for me. For as devastating as the subject matters were, due to the way May's story was presented to us, it felt more like a voyeuristic peek at the suffering of a 14 year old girl - and not in a way that could convey the tragedy, horror, and sadness that really befell her. As beautiful as the cinematography was, the forced angles and "just right" framing became tiring after a while - the movie seemed to be more set on getting the visuals right, rather than the feel or the story, and so the beauty quickly became overpowering, spoiling the proverbial soup as there seemed to be no balance in combining both the beautiful and the grotesque.
So, cinematographically speaking, this movie was absolutely breathtaking. The music, too. But that's all there is to this movie. It is beautiful to look at, even at the most gruesome moments, but it is also painfully boring and a little bit pretentious sometimes. This is at no fault of any of the actors and actresses, mind you - they, too, excelled. But the story did not do any of these things justice - it's as if somebody used the most high quality materials and techniques to essentially make a non-functional bag. It's nice to look at but that's it.
If you want to kill some time before going to sleep and wind down, then I would recommend this movie.
2 snowmeats out of 5