love never ends well, but in this case, more than hearts get broken. Consider
this fair warning: it will be downright painful to watch misunderstandings metastasize
into corrosive jealousy. The results are tragic for two rural Vietnamese
brothers in Victor Vu’s adaptation of Nguyen Nhat Anh’s YA novel, Yellow Flowers on Green Grass (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.
is the older brother, but in many ways he is the more awkward and insecure one.
Nevertheless, Tuong duly looks up to his older sibling and often covers for his
mistakes. At least Thieu is an excellent student, who might be able to study
his way to a better life. However, he is pretty clueless when it comes to
girls. Everyone knows he has a crush on the somewhat younger but cherubically
cute Moon. Yet, his early attempts to woo her are woefully embarrassing. Somehow
he seems to make a little progress, until outside events get in the way.
Moon is in for a rough patch. Her missing father is presumed to have contracted
leprosy and her family’s home is damaged in a fire. When she temporarily moves
in with Thieu’s family, it ought to be a golden opportunity for the love-struck
lad. Instead, Moon’s rapport with the bratty Tuong, who happens to be closer to
her age, leads to miscommunication and resentment on Thieu’s part.
Mỹ and Trọng Kang are so sweetly innocent looking as
Moon and Tuong, it really hurts to watch them suffer Thieu’s escalating tantrums.
Sadly though, it is all rather believable, thanks in large measure to Thinh
Vinh’s agonizingly realistic lead performance. Yet, Vu and co-screenwriter Viet
Linh allow for the possibility of hope and redemption through an escape hatch of
apparent magical realism.
the young cast-members of Yellow Flowers are
frighteningly effective, including the three principals, as well as Mỹ Anh, who
plays Nhi, a distressed young girl who happens to bear a close resemblance to
Moon. They are always deeply in character, expressing some raw emotions. On the
other hand, hardly any of the adults registers to any significant extent, but
what can you expect? This film is W.C. Fields’ worst nightmare, except instead
of a dog, Tuong has a pet toad.
Dramatically and aesthetically, Yellow Flowers is somewhat akin to the
films of the Iranian New Wave. While it focuses on children, the themes and imagery
are probably best appreciated by mature viewers. K’Linh Nguyen rich yet
delicate lensing also brings to mind Mark Lee Ping-Bing’s masterful work with
Tran Anh Hung, which is high praise indeed. Vu has had his share of
controversies over the last few years, but he should rebound decisively with
this pastoral fable. Recommended for those who appreciate the beauty in
tragedy, Yellow Flowers on Green Grass
screens tomorrow (7/2) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.
Labels: Coming of age films, NYAFF '16, Victor Vu, Vietnamese Cinema