The Vertical Ray of the Sun
An impossible motionlessness defines Tran Anh Hung's Mua he chieu thang dung. Released in the United States in 2000 as The Vertical Ray of the Sun, it's the director's third film, and the one that most resembles his first, The Scent of Green Papaya. Like the earlier film, it's a meditation on stillness. It's unlikely that many viewers will have the patience for a movie that simply observes its characters slowly getting out of bed, doing exercises, listening to the radio, or ordering the first meal of the day. There is a story of sorts somewhere in this vacation from action, and it has to do with subtle family changes. In contemporary Hanoi, Lien (regular Hung cast member Tran Nu Yen Khe) works in the café of her eldest sister Suong (Nguyen Nhu Quynh) while sharing rooms with their brother Hai (Ngo Quang Hai), an aspiring actor. On the fourth anniversary of their mother's death Lien, Suong and the middle sister Khanh (Le Khanh) gather at the café for a relaxed memorial service. Here we are introduced to the husbands, one of whom has a secret life. Little does he realize that so does his wife. Eventually they reach an accommodation. Meanwhile, Lien begins the search for a husband whom she hopes will resemble her brother. The film ends as the sisters make plans for their father's memorial service. Though Vertical Ray occasionally descends into contrivance and cliché, the physical grace of the cast, the interesting solidarity of the sisters, the movie's meditation on Asian feelings of decorum and dignity, and the subterranean sexual tensions stated only through body language, intrigue the viewer. Columbia TriStar has provided an impeccable anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), with audio in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround, both of which are more than adequate for a talky, atmospheric movie with occasional music cues and careful sound construction. Subtitles are in English, and extras consist of scant filmographies, the theatrical trailer, and trailers for three other art films. Keep-case.