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Greg Metzger

Saigon Stories

Looking for family values? Try postwar Vietnam.

Three Seasons marks a key point in American cinema. Winner of the Best Drama award at the 1999 Sundance festival, Three Seasons is the first American movie to be set in Vietnam after the war, and the first American movie ever to be acted in Vietnamese, by Vietnamese actors. On top of this, the movie is directed by a Vietnamese American, Tony Bui.

Bui, only 26, carries these historical and cultural burdens with remarkable grace in a movie that is at once true to the particularity of postwar Saigon life and universal in human qualities. Rather than focusing on a single protagonist, the film follows the interlocking stories of several characters. A young woman, Kien An (Ngoc Hiep), is hired to pick white lotuses in the rivers outside of Saigon and then sell them in the big city. Her hard life is complicated when the reclusive master of the field, Teacher Dao (Manh Cuong), is attracted by her singing. In the center of the city, Hai (Don Duong), a cyclo driver, falls for a prostitute, Lan (Zoe Bui), whom he often sees departing from the new hotels in the city. Another central character is Woody, a young boy who wanders the streets selling gum, lighters, and other trinkets. The only American in the movie is James Hager (Harvey Keitel), who is searching for the daughter he left behind in the war. He is the only character for whom the war is a present concern. The others are preoccupied with surviving in today's Vietnam.

Bui tells the story of each character well. Kien An's master turns out to be a leper who has lost his face and fingers to the disease. Her compassion toward him in his final months is portrayed with realism and soul. Woody is another in a long line of movie street urchins, but his story is told without manipulation. It is his liveliness, not the destitution in which he finds himself, that creates empathy for him. Harvey Keitel's work is remarkably understated. It is refreshing to see a star performing for a first-time director in a film likely to draw little ...

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