I just saw Bui Thac Chuyen’s film Choi Voi (Adrift) at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Bui Thac Chuyen is the director of Song Trong So Hai (Living in Fear, 2005), which is a terrific movie about a South Vietnamese veteran in Viet Nam after the war whose only way of making a living is to dig up buried landmines. After every successful de-mining, he’s so thrilled to be alive he has to make love to his wife. You can see the trailer and read more about it in Vietnamese or in English. Living in Fear was a visceral movie that presented a view of the war and its after effects seen rarely in Vietnamese cinema and never at all in American cinema. The same talent is on display in Adrift, but the look of the film and the narrative are very, very different. Adrift is about a mismatched newlywed couple: the young husband, taxi driver Duy Khoa Nguyen, a mama’s boy, and his wife, Do Thi Hai Yen (seen in The Quiet American and The Story of Pao), not yet aware of her sexuality until she runs into the Vietnamese/Viet Kieu hearth-throb Johnny Tri Nguyen (getting better with every film).
The film reminded me of Tran Anh Hung’s Vertical Ray of the Sun– meditative, beautiful, and tightly focused on the emotional, romantic, and sexual lives of men and women in Hanoi. Chuyen captures the look of Hanoi, from cramped working-class family apartments and gangster gambling dens to the middle-class dwellings of artists and cosmopolitans. The film may be slow going at first, but Chuyen builds momentum as the husband and wife gradually realize how ill-suited they are for each other, and find comfort elsewhere. This is New Vietnamese Cinema–technically on par with Korean, Hong Kong, or Japanese cinema, not a whiff of war or politics to be found, determined to show the complexity and contradictions of urban life in Vietnam. Highly recommended.
“Bui Thac Chuyen’s Choi Voi (Adrift)” was originally published on DiaCritics.org on May 6, 2010.