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Studio: The Global Film Initiative
Year: 2009
Cast: Do Hai Yen, Nguyen Duy Koha, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Linh-Dan Pham
Director: Bui Thac Chuyen
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:45m:47s
Genre(s): foreign

“If you don’t expect too much then everything is simple." - Duyen (Do Thi Hai Yen)


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This highly-acclaimed Vietnamese film is an erotic drama that gives us an inside look at what life is like in present-day Hanoi. Hopefully it's as appealing as the image on the case's cover.

Movie Grade: A-

DVD Grade: C

Vietnam isn’t exactly the first country you think of when referencing the best of international cinema. Responsible for a very small slice of the worldwide box office pie, it’s been a constant struggle for Vietnamese filmmakers to carve their niche on the international scene. One of these directors is Bui Thac Chuyen (Living in Fear), a former actor who began his filmmaking career with the 1991 short film Eternal Sadness, which won the Golden Swift Wing Prize at the 1st National Viet Nam Festival of Short Movies. His latest film, 2009’s Adrift (Choi Voi), hasn’t done much in its three years of limited theatrical releases to give Vietnamese filmmaking a broader audience, but, as the latest addition to The Global Film Initiative’s “Global Lens Collection” line of DVDs, the flick has the chance to reach a countless number of U.S. households. Fortunately, the film is more than worthy of a wide audience, despite its challenging subject matter and languid pacing, but whether such a title can truly latch on to those who would otherwise not gravitate towards such cinema, remains to be seen.

Duyen (Do Hai Yen) has just married Hai (Nguyen Duy Koha), a cab driver who is too wrapped up in his job, his friends, and his mother to pay any attention to her, let alone consummate their marriage. Frustrated in more ways than one, Duyen confides in her friend, Cam (Linh-Dan Pham), who is suffering from an unnamed illness. Cam seems to secretly be harboring feelings for Duyen, but despite such affections, she steers her friends affections towards the hunky Tho (Johnny Tri Nguyen). It isn’t long before Duyen is having an affair with Tho; an experience that unlocks numerous feelings and emotions that she never even realized she could experience. After such an incredible sexual awakening, it’s going to be difficult to go back to her new husband, let alone wind up in the arms of Cam, who just may be her one true love.

After an initial viewing, it’s easy to feel that the film’s title is extremely appropriate given the snail’s pace that things occur at. Director Bui Thac Chuyen’s meticulous pacing can be unnerving at times, but once we’re able to digest the entire film and we realize the numerous themes he’s trying to convey, it’s easier to realize just how necessary such languidity is. Plus, there’s a huge difference between a slow moving plot and a boring one, and this is certainly a case of a screenplay that results in the former rather than the latter. Duyen’s tale is an extremely compelling one that could be easily set in the U.S. or any other country. Hers is a story that many of us are all too familiar with, touching on themes and common problems that are both easily relatable and therefore very engaging. If there’s any story that has a chance to bring Vietnamese cinema to a wider audience, this just might be the one.

For all of the talk (both on the DVD’s case and in online write-ups on the film) about Adrift being sensual and erotic, there’s very little actual sensuality or eroticism depicted on-screen, with much of it inferred and the specifics left to our imagination. Instead, Bui Thac Chuyen focuses on crafting an atmospheric film that still does a fine job finding plenty of room for substance as well as style. He’s aided by a pair of incredible performances by Do Thi Hai Yen and Linh Dan Pham, two actresses that flawlessly embody their characters, making them stick with us even after the film is over. While it would be great to let them strengthen the cinematic footprint in their native country, I can’t help but want to see both of these actresses make the trip to Hollywood and see what they can do in dramatic fare over here. Despite the greatness of Adrift, the film, Adrift, the DVD release leaves a bit to be desired. The 2.00:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is often way too soft, with contrast and brightness issues that make it difficult to make out image detail during darker sequences. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio mix is just fine, though, but there are times where the lack of a 5.1 track seems like a missed opportunity. The extras basically serve as an extended advertisement for The Global Film Initiative, as they include a trailer for other GFI releases, a collection of static images for such titles, and a textual discussion on what the GFI is all about. There is a very nice, 18-page “Film Discussion Guide” that pretty much tells you everything you ever wanted to know about Adrift. This is a nice companion to an excellent film.

Posted by: Chuck Aliaga - March 18, 2012, 3:19 pm - DVD Review
Keywords: sexual awakening, erotic tension, sensuous

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