Published Sep 01, 2000The new film from Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung is awash in rich colour and luscious texture and filled with the sounds of rain, birds and buzzing insects. The story takes place over the period of one month in Hanoi, involving a tight-knit family gathering to commemorate the death of their mother. The action revolves around three sisters, one brother and two husbands. The unmarried sister lives with her brother and works in the cafe owned by one of the other sisters. Although everyone seems happy, there are certain secrets that threaten to destroy that happiness. Not one to get typecast as a director, Hung has made a film that differs significantly from his last two. From the slow-paced beauty of The Scent of Green Papaya to the violence and desperation of Cyclo, to the sensual comforts of this effort, Hung is adept at drawing the audience in and making them feel what the characters are feeling. Hung's style however, is evident throughout as is his growth as a filmmaker. His almost ritualistic use of water and bathing, cooking, smoking and sleeping contribute to the feast of the senses portrayed on-screen. In the opening sequence, which is repeated throughout the film, the brother and youngest sister, who live together in a vaguely incestuous relationship, wake up to moody music. First it's "Pale Blue Eyes" by the Velvet Underground, then "Coney Island Baby" by Lou Reed. The scenes are light on dialogue and even lighter on cuts, instead the camera slowly pans through the breezy apartment almost voyeuristically observing their morning ritual. When they do speak, the brother is usually asking his sister, played by Hung regular, the beautiful Tran Nu Yen Khe, why she crawled into his bed during the night. This film also marks the first time Hung breaks from the confines of the city to shoot in the wilderness, where one of the husbands, in an understated performance by Shu Hung, works as a photographer who catalogues plants for the Hanoi Botanical Society. Hung's inviting treatment of the lush jungle island could double as a travel advertisement for Vietnam. The use of water is one of Hung's trademarks as a director. Whether on screen in one of the many bathing, rainy or swimming sequences or merely as the sound of rainfall or dripping, it plays an important role in this as well as in his other films. The Vertical Ray of the Sun is a film that transcends language in the skilled hands of Tran Anh Hung who ably creates a visual and aural sensation for his audience.