Golden Globe Awards
By Brent Simon
Published December 6, 2021
Kiều, directed by Mai Thu Huyền, blends action and romance alongside lushly staged melodrama in a manner, which summons forth feelings one might most readily associate with the grand, sweeping, foretold fates of an epic poem. That’s no surprise, given that the movie is inspired by a selected excerpt from poet Nguyễn Du’s 3,254-verse “luc bát” meter classic 19th century text “The Tale of Kiều,” an enduring and widely translated piece of early feminism, and one of the most famous Vietnamese literary works of all-time.
A story of liberation charting the subjugation, friction and battle of one woman against oppressive and sexist societal constraints, the film unfolds primarily through the audience-friendly lens of a love triangle between its three main characters, Kieu (Trình My Duyen), Thuc Sinh (Le Anh Duy), and Hoan Thu (Cao Thai Ha), after the former agrees to wed a stranger in order to save her falsely imprisoned father and brother. This decision turns out to be a pretense for the virginal Kiều’s enslavement at a brothel, setting off a chain of consuming jealousies, romantic yearning, scheming, and recrimination. With its brightly colored production design, gorgeous complementary costumes, and an evocative score which leans heavily on reed and harpsichord notes, Kiều delivers a feast for the eyes, while also posing plenty of deeper questions.
Adapted by Phi Tiến Sơn, and produced to commemorate the 200th anniversary of its author’s passing, Kiều enjoyed its Stateside premiere at the 22nd annual Newport Beach Film Festival, following a theatrical release in its native Vietnam. “As a female director, perhaps I have a lot more sympathy for female characters, and through this film I partly wanted to reflect the conditions of women under a feudal system,” shared director-producer Mai Thu Huyền at the aforementioned event. “Every role encapsulates different layers of meaning about fate, and hidden psychological corners — how the pain of one person is shredded and placed onto another.”