[Screen It]


(1999) (Don Duong, Zoe Bui) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Minor Moderate Minor Minor
Minor None None None Mild
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Moderate Mild Mild Moderate Mild

Drama: Four nearly unrelated stories detail the lives of six people in Vietnam.
In the oppressive heat of Ho Chi Minh City, several people go about trying to make the best of their lives. A young woman, Kien An (NGOC HIEP NGUYEN), has recently arrived for a job where she harvests lotus flowers for her rarely seen employer, Teacher Dao (MANH CUONG TRAN).

A victim of leprosy that's left him scarred and unable to write, Dao has retreated to his lake temple, but Kien An's singing draws his attention and the two finally meet and she eventually agrees to transcribe the poems locked inside his head.

Meanwhile in the city, a bicycle driver, Hai (DON DUONG) has become smitten with a hotel hopping hooker, Lan (ZOE BUI), after getting her out of a tight situation and then serving as her personal transportation. Although she's initially hesitant to accept his rides, she soon begins to enjoy his company and he becomes even more infatuated with her.

Then there's James Hager (HARVEY KEITEL), an American GI who's returned to Vietnam to finally meet the daughter he fathered during the war. Most of the time, however, he simply sits and stares at a former military bar, hoping to get up the nerve to meet his daughter and finally put the past behind him.

Along the way he runs into Woody (HUU DUOC NGUYEN), a young street peddler who's always trying to hawk items from the display suitcase draped around his neck. When that suitcase disappears during a blackout, Woody believes that Hager stole it and seeks out both him and the suitcase for the rest of the story.

As they all cope with the near intolerable heat and the occasional downpours, these various people spend their time contemplating the changes that have overrun and overcome Vietnam.

Unless they have an interest in Vietnam, it's not very likely.
For thematic elements.
  • NGOC HIEP NGUYEN plays a young woman who takes a job harvesting and then selling lotus flowers for her employer whom she eventually befriends and then rekindles his long lost passion for poetry.
  • MANH CUONG TRAN plays her employer, a man who's withdrawn from society due to his leprosy.
  • DON DUONG plays a cyclo driver (a bicycling taxi) who inexplicably falls for a prostitute, serves as her personal transportation, and then buys her a night of not having to prostitute herself.
  • ZOE BUI plays the hooker who spends most of her time traveling from one hotel client to the next.
  • HARVEY KEITEL plays an American GI who's returned to Vietnam to finally meet the daughter he fathered during the war. He smokes and drinks some, and also cusses a few times.
  • HUU DUOC NGUYEN plays a young street peddler who must finds his suitcase filled with goods lest his father not allow him home.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Like the annual, but long awaited meteorological change from winter to spring, October Films release of "Three Seasons" does have some beautiful images that arise from otherwise bleak surroundings, but is so laboriously slow and plot impaired that you'll feel as if those later winter/early spring months have passed waiting for the film to traverse its meandering course from beginning to end.

    To be fair, the film was the winner of both the best dramatic picture and audience favorite awards at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Those accolades, however, raise questions regarding the quality of the competition and whether the oxygen-impaired high altitude or party hangovers may have clouded the viewers' judgement.

    That's not to say that the film is bad. On the contrary, it looks terrific -- courtesy of cinematographer Lisa Rinzler -- has some strong performances, and enough symbolism to teach a film school class on that subject. What it doesn't have, however, is much of a forward-moving plot.

    Although its four stories are initially compelling enough to keep them interesting, writer/director Tony Bui doesn't do much to flesh them out beyond their superficial underpinnings. It nearly seems as if Bui -- a Vietnamese filmmaker who returned to his homeland after an absence that's spanned most of his life -- was more interested in presenting an allegory than an engaging motion picture.

    While those who appreciate metaphorically styled films -- such as "The Thin Red Line" -- will probably enjoy this picture, mainstream moviegoers -- who've already had their fill of Vietnam related stories -- will find the proceedings exceedingly sluggish and the resident symbolism perhaps occasionally applied a bit too thickly.

    That said, such symbolism is effectively presented, with Master Dao representing the ancient, decaying part of Vietnam's past, Hager a specific troubled past, Lan a disillusioned present, and Woody, an uncertain future. While those elements are more subtly displayed, the dialogue of the poor and disenfranchised complaining about the rich is a bit too "on the nose," as is Hai "rescuing" Lan, the hooker -- surprise, surprise, who's actually a decent person (almost with a heart of gold) -- and thus his country from its past shame.

    Although the ever-present symbolism and imagery are boldly displayed, the same can't be said for the overall meandering plot. Despite the interesting -- if occasionally too familiar -- initial premises, the individual stories don't make much of an attempt to hold the viewer's interest, and some elements such as Hai's sudden and then continued interest in Lan or an oddly placed cyclo race seem too contrived for their own good.

    One also imagines that since the stories take place in the same setting and time that they'll probably intersect in some meaningful way, such as Woody being one of the characters' son, etc... In fact, the film may have been more interesting had the different tales involved the same characters but at different ages and in different times -- a point that wouldn't be disclosed until later in the film. Beyond some meager and inconsequential intermingling, however, the stories are essentially standalone pieces.

    For the most part, the performances are good despite the lack of much plot and/or character development, and a less than average amount of dialogue for a film like this. Although his character's sudden interest in Lan the prostitute is never satisfactorily explained, Don Duong delivers a compelling take as the middle-aged cyclo driver.

    While perfectly playing the standard-issue hooker, Zoe Bui is okay, but can't do much with her stereotypically written character. Despite having substantial screen time, Ngoc Hiep Nguyen and Manh Cuong Tran likewise are stuck in underdeveloped characters, although the mystery surrounding Dao -- who's eventually revealed to be a leper -- does keep things moderately interesting.

    Meanwhile, Huu Duoc Nguyen is haunting as Woody, the young street peddler, although we know next to nothing about his character. Then there's Harvey Keitel ("Shadrach," "Cop Land"), the only marque name to be found in the film (that he also executive produced). As such, his character seems the odd man out -- somewhat appropriately since he's the only American character -- and his story is the weakest of the bunch (none of which are particularly strong to begin with).

    Freshman director Bui does deliver a decent first outing, and while the picture is visually engaging, what with its exquisite imagery, it's too bad he didn't pay as much attention to the plot. As a result, audiences will probably have mixed reactions to this slow-moving film, but will certainly see that its director has talent to spare and will expect bigger and better efforts from him in the future. We certainly feel that way and thus give "Three Seasons" a 5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the content found in this PG-13 rated drama. One of the characters is a prostitute, and while we never see her "at work," her occupation is referenced several times. We do see, however, a somewhat sensual encounter between her and a man who's befriended her (as he applies some sort of lotion to her bare back and we see glimpses of parts of her bare breasts as she lies on her stomach).

    Profanity is mild with 2 "s" words being spoken in English and only a few other mild words and phrases occurring in Vietnamese (with English subtitles). Beyond some brief glimpses and thematic issues regarding a man with leprosy and a GI who's returned to Vietnam to finally meet the daughter he fathered during the war and has never met, the remaining categories are mostly void of any major objectionable content.

    While it's highly unlikely that many kids will want to see this film, we suggest that you take a closer look at the content should you still be concerned about its appropriateness for them or anyone else in your home.

  • Lan tells Hai that she could "use a drink right now" and then guesses that Hai doesn't drink, which is correct.
  • People drink beer in a bar and we see several bottles in front of Hager. When Woody joins him (trying to sell him goods), Hager offers him a sip. The boy initially refuses but finally takes several swigs of it.
  • Hager comments that it's his last night there and it's "time to drink." We then see him and others with drinks while eating a meal.
  • We see some glimpses of Dao's blistered face (a result of leprosy) and he mentions that he's lost his fingers (but we never see his hands).
  • Someone steals Woody's peddler case.
  • Teacher Dao laments about people either staring at him or looking away and closing their windows upon the sight of him (due to his leprosy).
  • The scenes where Kien An anxiously awaits Teacher Dao -- where we only see glimpses of him in the shadows -- may be unsettling to the youngest of viewers (although it's doubtful they'll be watching this film).
  • A group of men who meet Hai and Lan in a dark alley may be carrying guns (a few had something long resting on their shoulders -- which also could be clubs, etc...).
  • We hear some gunshots in a movie that Woody sneaks into.
  • Phrases (in English subtitles): "Bastards," "Nuts" (crazy) and "Whore."
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 2 "s" words in English, and 4 damns and 1 hell in English subtitles.
  • Although we never actually see her engage in such activity, Lan is a prostitute (we do see that she spends a lot of time in high-priced hotels and occasionally see a man come out with her when she's leaving). She does mention that she never stays overnight with any of them and that she charges fifty dollars for her services.
  • Hai tells Lan that he's got the money to pay her and so they go off to a bedroom where she says, "Shall we get started now?" as she starts to take off her top but then stops. It turns out, however, that he simply wants to pay to watch her sleep (clothed) without her having to sell her body for a change.
  • Later, Lan returns Hai's money so that since they "didn't make love," he doesn't owe her any.
  • We see a sensual closeup of Hai's finger running down Lan's sweaty/wet back, and then see him applying some sort of liquid/lotion to her that he then caresses into her skin. As such, we see that she's topless (lying on her stomach) and occasionally see glimpses of parts of her bare breasts as she rises up.
  • Hager smokes several times, while miscellaneous or background characters also occasionally smoke.
  • Woody offers to sell, among other things, cigarettes from his peddling case.
  • Lan asks Hai for a cigarette but he doesn't have any.
  • Another cyclo driver, a friend of Hai's, often has a cigarette or two behind his ears.
  • Kagan gets a letter from his daughter -- that he's never met -- that her mother has died, and so he's set out to meet that daughter.
  • A man (who's presumably Woody's father) smacks him for returning without his peddler's case and tells him not to come back until he's found it.
  • Vietnam.
  • Prostitution.
  • Leprosy.
  • A man (who's presumably Woody's father) smacks him for returning without his peddler's case.
  • Woody accidently falls through a movie screen, tearing a big hole in it.
  • Another kid accidently knocks down Woody after either running out or being thrown out of an establishment.
  • Seeing that his bike has thrown its chain, a cyclo driver purposefully knocks over a competitor and his bike.

  • Reviewed April 21, 1999 / Posted May 14, 1999

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