Ba Mua (Three Seasons) (1999)




Director:  Tony Bui.

Starring:  Ngoc Hiep Nguyen (Kien An), Ngoc Minh (Truck Driver), Phat Trieu Hoang (Huy, Dao's Headman), Diem Kieu (Singing Lotus Woman), Hanh Kieu (Giang), Duong Don (Hai, Cyclo Driver), Huu Duoc Nguyen (Woody, Child Street Peddler), Hong Son Le (Binh, Cyclo Driver), Ba Quang Nguyen (Don, Cyclo Driver), Huu Su Tran (Ngon, Cyclo Driver), Duc Hung Luong (Minh, Cyclo Driver), Harvey Keitel (James Hager), Diep Bui (Lan the Hooker), Hoang Trieu (Man Who Chases Lan #1), Tran Long (Man Who Chases Lan #2).

residents of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) have to adjust to the new capitalist trends in the city


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Vietnam.  This is a story of four main characters in their search of a family.  Kien An is a young woman who gets a job collecting Teacher Dao's white lotus flowers that bloom on his lake and then sell them.  She is one of many female workers who employ boats to go out on the lake to harvest the blooms. 

There is also the story of Hai, who drives a cyclo (a kind of rickshaw powered by a bicycle).  He sees a pretty woman named Lan being chased from a bar by two angry men.  She jumps onto his cyclo and Hai drives off quickly.  The driver is very taken with the young woman's beauty, but it is apparent that the woman is a prostitute.  Hai drops her at a hotel.  He asks her if he can give her a ride home, but she rejects the idea saying that she will be in the hotel for a least several hours.  But the cyclo driver decides to wait anyway.  When  she comes out of the hotel he is there to take her home. 

A third story is of an American Vietnam War veteran.  He has sat in front of his hotel all day every day for more than two weeks.  He keeps staring at the restaurant across the street.  Our cyclo driver mentions to another driver that the place was once a G.I. bar.  The American has recently learned that the mother of his daughter has died.  He has returned to Vietnam to meet his daughter.  He wants to right a wrong/mistake. 

The fourth story is of a little orphan boy named Woody.  Woody makes money working for a man by selling small goods out of a wooden case on the city streets and in the hotels/bars. 

The stories are interrelated because the four characters live/work in the same area of the city.  The stories are separate, but definitely related. 

At work on the lake the older women are shocked when Kien An just starts singing a new song.  They have been there much longer and don't like Kien An pushing herself forward in such a bold way.  During the night, Teacher Dao asks that Kien An be brought to his house in the center of the white lotus lake.  Kien An is a little worried.  The house is very dark inside.  Teacher Dao in a wheel chair enters the front room but stays in the shadows.  The teachers asks Kien An where she learned that song that she sang during the day.  She learned it from her mother she tells him.  Teacher then asks her to sing the song for him. 

Woody meets a young man who looks at his wares.  The fellow then goes into the bar.  Woody decides to go into the bar too.  There he runs into the American veteran who looks at Woody's goods.  He is fascinated by a zippo lighter that, according to the inscription, once belonged to a US Marine fighting in Vietnam.  He makes an offer to Woody for the entire case.  The vet then gives Woody a beer.  Woody proceeds to get drunk and falls asleep.  When he awakes the veteran is gone and so is his case.  He immediately tries to track down the American. 

Kien An returns to the teacher's home.  While she waits for him, she reads some of his letters.  Teacher comes in and asks she if she learned a lot by reading his private letters.  Kien An replies that she read enough to know that he is in a great deal of pain.  When teacher asks her what does she know about pain, she responds that they have both lived hard lives.  The teacher says that he has had the harder life.  He suffers from leprosy and has been a social leper for a number of years.  Kien An takes one of his poems and reads it aloud.  After she finishes he tells her that was his last poem.  His fingers are so bad now that he cannot write.  So Kien Ann immediately volunteers to work with him:  "I will be your fingers."  Teacher resists at first, but soon changes his mind and accepts her offer. 

Meanwhile, the kid continues his search for the American veteran. 

The cyclo driver waits at a hotel for Lan.  He offers to take her home.  She asks him if he is following her, but he just smiles and asks her the same question.  She makes a short stop to buy some food and then lets Hai take her home.  At her place she gives the driver some of the food that she had purchased earlier. 

Kien An takes dictation from Teacher Dao. 

Woody has to return to his employer without his case.  The employers slaps him across the face and tells him to get out and don't come back until he has his case.  The next day the cyclo driver talks with Kien An about the regrettable influx of plastic lotus flowers.  He then tries to buy some flowers from her, but she gives him the flowers for free.  Later he runs into Woody who has just been thrown out of a movie theatre for putting a big hole in the movie screen.  Woody meets a small girl who starts to tag along after him.  He is not too happy about that. 

Kien An learns from teacher's assistant that her work with the teacher has been suspended. She senses that something is wrong with Teacher Dao.  She begs to be allowed to see teacher, but the assistant refuses to give her permission. 

The cyclo driver waits for Lan once again.  But this time she gets into a cab with a man.  Hai follows the taxi and sees Lan get thrown out by the angry customer.  He tries to help her, but she tells him:  "Please, I have to go now."

Woody sees the American vet and follows him into the hotel bathroom.  Moments later he confronts the vet, but the vet cannot understand Vietnamese.  The hotel manager tries to get rid of Woody as a nuisance, but the vet tells him to let the boy stay.  The vet asks the manager to translate what Woody is saying to him.  When the vet realizes he is being accused of stealing the boy's case, he says he is sorry but he had nothing to do with the missing case.  Later the American eats dinner with other hotel patrons with a young woman for each patron.  The vet sees the girl who is his daughter obligatorily wiping a patron's mouth after each bite of food.  The vet starts crying at the sight.

Our cyclo driver joins in on the big cyclo race and, with the help of a friend, wins.  Afterwards, he goes to see Lan.  She tells him to go away, but he says he has the $50 dollar fee to pay her for her services.  In the hotel room Hai gives Lan a nightgown to put on.  He also tells her to take off her make-up.  When she has changed and washed her make-up off, the driver has her lay down on the bed.  He tells her that he only wants to watch her sleep.  She obliges him and soon falls asleep.  The next morning when she awakes, she has breakfast waiting for her in the room. 

The American vet buys some lotus flowers from Kien An.  He then returns to his post to watch the restaurant.  He goes in to meet his daughter.  He starts explaining to her that he made a mistake and now wants to make up for it. 

The cyclo drivers knocks on Lan's door.  She is ill and annoyed that he has come.  He says he has another $50 dollars.  But she wants to return the earlier $50 that he had given her.  He will not take the money.  She closes the door.  Stunned, the cyclo driver stands by the door.  When he hears someone falling, he enters an Lan's apartment to see her lying on the floor.  He creates a pattern of red, rubbed skin on her back to alleviate her pain.  She starts feeling better and finally starts to show some feeling for the first time for the  cyclo driver. 

Kien An is allowed to see Teacher Dao.  He is on his death bed.  She sings her song for him. 

The little girl shares some of her food with Woody.  Woody then plays street soccer in the rain with a bunch of boys.  While knocking the ball around, he sees a passed out young man he had seen at the bar on the day someone stole his case.  He also sees that the man has his case.  Woody takes the case.  As he walks away the little girl tags along, but this time they walk together. 

The cyclo driver brings Lan to a beautiful place where the red leaves fall like rain drops.  The pair looks so happy and content now. 

Kien An receives Teacher Dao's assembly of his poetry.  To honor the man, she throws a lot of white lotus flower upon the river and watches the people working along the river watch the beautiful display. 

Good movie.  All four main characters built new familial relations, even if one of them proved to be all too brief.  Kien An had a close relationship with Teacher Dao; the cyclo driver established a relationship with the prostitute Lan; the little boy named Woody joined with the little girl that tagged after him; and the American vet finally met his Vietnamese-American daughter.  They were all good love stories.  My wife and I both liked the movie. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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