The Third Wife: Movie Review

the-third-wife-filmNgười vợ ba (The Third Wife is the title for the international market) is the debut film by Vietnamese director Ash Mayfair. Released in 2018, it features the young Nguyen Phuong Tra My playing a 14-year-old girl named May who becomes the third wife of the wealthy landlord Hung (Long Le Vu). The story is set in the XIX century and it’s in fact an excuse used by the director to show the situation of her country at that time from an all female point of view.

Going straight to the point, the strength of the film is precisely its documentary-like nature. The women of the Vietnamese society of the time didn’t have the same rights as men… to put it mildly! In practice, women were at the mercy of men: they had to serve them and give them pleasure and, above all, deliver male children. Ash Mayfair shows all this with a series of episodes happening around May. The other two wives of the landlord teach her to please her husband in bed and give her advice on getting pregnant with a boy. The very young wife of Hung’s only son (Son, played by Nguyen Thanh Tam) meets an untimely death due to his stubborness. And, finally, Hung’s youngest daughter cuts her hair to try to live a man’s life. Not to mention the murderous thoughts against a little baby whose only fault is being born female instead of male!

All these episodes are absolutely interesting and give value to the film making it worth watching. On the other hand, I cannot say that the movie fully convinced me. The pace is slow, which in itself isn’t a problem for me, but above all the narration is fragmented and not very linear. Mayfair gets lost in showing images connected to the stories of the protagonists with sometimes obscure and sometimes more understandable metaphors (Hung’s erection in the first night with May is portrayed with a silkworm standing on a layer of leaves), and only at times does she remember to advance the plot with scenes which seem put together without a real plot to support them. There are few dialogues, and at least half of them could be taken out of the movie without any problem, so much so that if it were a silent film it would probably be even better!

In short, if you want to see a snapshot of XIX century Vietnam from the point of view of women and witness the harassment to which they were subjected, The Third Wife is the right film for you. The historical reconstruction is very accurate, the acting is OK, and the costumes and the sets are well made.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a compelling story, a tense and well-written drama with an inspired plot… Well, maybe you have to look somewhere else. Personally, I would’ve also preferred a better cinematography to enjoy the beautiful Vietnamese landscapes that are seen on the screen, but the fact that the movie was clearly shot in digital didn’t impress me much. In any case, I think it’s worth watching The Third Wife to get closer to Vietnamese cinema, whose products rarely reach our markets. Ciao!

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