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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000)

"Come and dance with me."
- Lien (Tran Nu Yen Khe)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: December 20, 2001

Stars: Tran Nu Yen Khe, Nguyen Nhu Quynh, Le Khanh
Other Stars: Ngo Quang Hai, Chu Hung, Tran Manh Cuong, Le Tuan Anh
Director: Tran Anh Hung

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some sex-related material
Run Time: 01h:52m:36s
Release Date: December 18, 2001
UPC: 043396063914
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ B+AB+ C-

DVD Review

An attractive young woman sits in her luscious garden and sings a melodic song to herself while washing her hair. This is a simple scene with little happening in terms of plot development. However, the atmosphere achieves the effect of creating a marvelous state of dreamlike beauty. Her husband soon appears and sports a look of obvious joy and love towards his wife. Spurred by the connection of this moment, she reveals her pregnancy. The actors play this scene together with surprising subtlety, and the lush direction creates a charming tone.

The sun rises in a small abode in Hanoi, and a brother and sister rise wearily to the sounds of the alarm. He flips on the stereo, and the smooth sounds of such bands as the Velvet Underground inspire a perfect opening to the morning. The emotionally close siblings sway lazily to the tunes and begin to escape from a hazy state. While the rain strikes the ground outside, they remain in silence and simply enjoy the company of each other. This moment repeats several times, and their actions occur without any hurry to generate a delightful atmosphere.

These breathtaking scenes represent just a small portion of the beauty of The Vertical Ray of the Sun, which stunningly captures the life of three sisters and the men in their life. Directed with a confident patience by Tran Anh Hung (Cyclo, The Scent of Green Papaya), this film takes its time and reveals the intricacies of this family's life in Hanoi, Vietnam. The central character is Lien (Tran Nu Yen Khe, Hung's wife)—an energetic woman searching for a bond in her life. Her closest friend is her brother Hai (Quang Hai Ngo), who shares an apartment and spends much of his time with her. Although it's not a physical connection, they share emotional ties that are extremely close following the death of their parents.

Suong (Nhu Quynh Nguyen) is another sister who cannot understand the continued disinterest of her husband Quoc (Chu Hung) in their marriage. He spends a majority of his time studying photos with a gaze that stretches far away from his current situation. On the other hand, Khanh (Le Khanh) has a loving marriage with her husband Kien (Manh Cuong Tran), but his temptations on a business trip could ruin their happiness. Their lives revolve around work at a local café and time spent at the other's homes. The sisters spend much of their days with each other, and everything appears copacetic on the surface. However, each woman has a personal conflict that could destroy this tranquil life.

While the basic story is interesting, the main allure stems from the unbelievable visual style and overall serene feeling generated by this film. Director of photography Mark Lee utilizes the impressive settings to inaugurate a calm, enjoyable experience. While you may fall asleep during this story, it won't occur due to boredom. Instead, the lush score and pure eroticism lulls you into a peaceful reverie. Even without becoming enthralled in the plot, it's easy to find yourself drawn into this pristine setting. Rain often falls during this feature, and it combines with the plant life and interesting décor to create a naturalistic setting.

The Vertical Ray of the Sun may not paint a realistic picture of daily life in Hanoi, but it does succeed in inspiring a masterful tone of rural grace. During an excursion away from home, Quoc rides a small fishing boat through the awe-inspiring waters of Halong Bay. His expression is one of immense peace, and it's easy to identify with this feeling during this film. This segment could easily serve as a travelogue for Vietnam while also continuing the story of the character. It stands as one of numerous grandiose moments in this story, which offers a picturesque peek into a family drama.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Vertical Ray of the Sun includes a lush 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents Hung's beautiful direction in all its glory. The awe-inspiring scenery shines with deep and bright colors that strongly convey the emotional context of the story. The picture is virtually free of defects, and the black levels are extremely solid throughout the presentation. This high-quality transfer lifts the enjoyment level of this movie and helps to capture the essence of Vietnam and its people.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Vietnameseyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This release offers both 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and 2.0-channel Dolby Surround Vietnamese tracks, but I noticed little difference between the two versions. The surrounds offer slightly more ambient noise in the more complex transfer, but its companion matches it in terms of audio power. Neither one is overly remarkable in terms of depth, but they do present the story in a clear and understandable fashion. The melodic score also resonates clearly, which generates the emotions necessary for the scenes presented. Viewers weary of reading subtitles should note the absence of a dubbed English transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Scent of Green Papaya, The Road Home, Shower
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:03m:40s

Extras Review: This disc contains a collection of theatrical trailers for The Vertical Ray of the Sun and three other recent releases from the Orient. There are full-frame previews for The Scent of Green Papaya and Shower, as well as a 2.35:1 widescreen trailer for The Road Home. The featured title's entry comes in a 1.85:1 widescreen version and presents striking scenes of natural beauty. Basic filmographies for writer/director Tran An Hung and star Tran Nu Yen Khe are also available.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

The Vertical Ray of the Sun features a nicely written screenplay and solid performances from the entire cast. On the surface, it would stand as a decent film with impressive emotional moments. However, the majestic direction of Tran Anh Hung carries the events to another level and creates a wonderful visual atmosphere. Everything moves fairly slowly, which gives him plenty of time to create a peaceful feeling that pervades the entire film.


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