From the maker of The Scent of Green Papaya comes another lush slice-of-Vietnamese-life. In contemporary Hanoi, four grown siblings go through their days running their cafe, lying exhausted in the summer heat, eating, drinking, and yearning for love outside their stifled lives. The two oldest sisters are having issues with their husbands' (and their own) infidelity. The youngest sister (Tran Nu Yen Keh, presumably the director's girlfriend, who also starred in Green Papaya as well as Tran's follow-up, the little-seen Cyclo) has yet to experience real love, and so she starts developing an uncomfortable affection for her brother.
But The Vertical Ray of the Sun is less about any story than it is about the color green, the color blue, the sound of birds hidden in the trees, Lou Reed singing "Pale Blue Eyes", and water water everywhere - dribbling down a woman's back, splashing under a man's hands, mist in the air, ocean under a boat. It's the wettest film I've ever seen.
Of course, this attention to texture and atmosphere should come as no surprise to anybody who saw Green Papaya, but this film forgoes the innocence of Tran's debut; after making his harder-edged Cyclo (which was considered such a disappointment by critics and audiences that a despondent Tran reportedly considered suicide), the director could probably never go back to making films about pure happiness, and so although Vertical Ray is as languid and smooth as his first film, the emotional themes are darker and sadder.
Still, the camera loves Tran Nu Yen Keh: her acting has improved considerably, and her sensuality is as palatable as the film's. And she's got the sexiest hair ever.