October 19, 2001

Not a Ray of Sunshine

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One of the most visually beautiful and delicate foreign films since Chungking Express, Anh Hung Tran’s The Vertical Ray of the Sun inspires life and beauty. However, due to a very flat and unfulfilling plot, this movie is not as successful as it appears.

The story follows three sisters in Hanoi, Vietnam over a one month period. Beginning with the anniversary of their mother’s death, and ending with the anniversary of their father’s, Sun explores the natural beauty of everyday life and of intimate human relationships. While each sister, the audience soon learns, has a secret of her own, their closeness is developed throughout the movie. Cooking together and discussing their hardships and successes brings the sisters closer with each scene.

The three actresses — Tran Nu Yen-Khe, Nhu Quynh, and Le Knanh — are as exquisite as they are innocent. Their gorgeous laughter and natural gittiness add tremendous spirit to the movie.

The clearest strength of this movie is, no doubt, the filming. Taking in every aspect of Vietnamese society, including plants, art, weather, and the close feeling of a small town, the cinematographer makes the viewer truly appreciate the setting for this film. The issues raised in the movie, such as life, death, love, and the importance of art, coincide with this majestic filming technique.

Gentle music, including ethnic songs performed by the actors, give Vertical Ray a pleasant feel. Full of culture and grace, this film is a portrait on the screen. However, natural beauty cannot save the movie from its extremely weak plot. Often very slow, even for artsy movie lovers, the story starts successfully, develops in a mediocre fashion, and then just falls flat. When thinking back to the film, it is hard to even remember what really happened. The movie tends to flow smoothly, except for some very abrupt and unfitting scene changes. These transitions disrupt the film incredibly and confuse the viewer.

Even though the film does deal with many innate human issues, some are overlooked, and in fact, ignored blatantly. The feeling towards birth and death verges on true depth, and could have definitely been developed successfully, but then the characters sort of laugh over its importance and treat it with utter ignorance.

Due to the presentation of three different stories from the three women’s perspectives, the audience is often confused as to which character is which. Each woman also has a love interest, which puts too many characters in the main scenes, with none of them getting sufficent screen time.

While The Vertical Ray of the Sun says many things without words, it takes advantage of this strength and should have completed the themes discussed. Instead, it almost seemed like the budget dried up and the story ended mid-thought. With natural beauty as a rare resource, this movie should have soared to the sky, instead of falling to the ground.

Archived article by Cory Sinclair