Image Entertainment // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Marco Duran (Retired) // March 17th, 2010
An orphan girl plays matchmaker to a flight attendant and lonely zoo keeper.
The fairytale is one of the oldest tropes in storytelling. It goes Boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back. We all know the process. We all know the scenarios. We all know the slow motion, big orchestral music laden endings of these films where the lovers embrace after overcoming all odds. It can get kinda boring. I'm not a fan of these types of movies, as you may have picked up on. Blatant commonality in plot lines is not my cup o' tea. Yet, from time to time, someone takes the common and makes it uncommon.
Such is the case in Owl and the Sparrow, a Vietnamese film by writer/director Stephanie Gauger (director of Vietnam Overtures and writer of Powder Blue). The boy-meets-girl line is still there, but what throws a monkey wrench into the well-trodden works is a little girl named Thuy, played to exquisite vulnerability and strength by Han Thi Pham (a first time actress). Thuy is, we find out at the beginning of the film, an orphan who is now being cared for by her verbally abusive and uncaring uncle, Minh (Nguyen Hau -- another first timer). She decides to run away from her home in the countryside and try and make her way in the big city, Saigon. Anything has to be better then where she was. Thuy is the heart of the story; the one we follow throughout her adventures, of which the love story between the boy and the girl just happens to be part of.
The boy of the romance is Hai (The Lu Le -- Mua Len Trau). Hai works at the zoo; he cares for the elephants. His girlfriend of many years recently broke up with him. The elephant he's raised since it was very young is about to be transferred to a zoo in India. His life is not going very well when he meets Thuy, who by this time has gone from trying to sell postcards to selling roses on the streets in order to make money to be able to eat. Hai takes her in, gives her some food and shows her around the zoo. They become friends.
The girl of the romance is Lan (Cat Ly, 21 and a Wake-up). She is a airplane stewardess in a complicated relationship and she can't seem to find enough courage to break it off. While Lan is grounded in Saigon for a week, she goes on a blind date, which ends badly, and ends up eating noodle soup at a small restaurant. There Lan meets Thuy, who is attempting to pawn off some flowers. Lan instead buys Thuy some soup and invites Thuy to stay in her hotel room whenever she wants. They also become friends.
You may be able to see from this small peek into the plot how the rest of the story will end up. However, it's the way that, again, the common is dealt with that elevates this film beyond the usual banality. The easy road is never taken with any of the characters or their story arcs. It would have been simple to bring the lovers together and have an instant attraction, instead the couple is rather ambiguous towards each other. They actually build their relationship more on respect and their mutual concern over the well being of Thuy, than on their care for each other. People's feelings are not as ham-fistedly handled as they usually are in these scenarios. Instead, they are handled with subtlety and grace, even respect. Stephanie Gauger, also the cinematographer, fills every shot with a single actor; she then needs to move the camera with every line being said. That causes the movie to have a restless feel, which comments on the emotions of our protagonists.
The picture quality in this film is slightly above average. There weren't a lot of specks or grain, but it wasn't shot in HD either. Modern picture quality has a bar that was raised and this film did not rise to the challenge. That said, it isn't a horrible quality, just not a stand out either. The sound is, again, pretty average. Two channel stereo is all you get. However, this is a talky narrative so it isn't really missed; rather it's more of a missed opportunity during the city scenes. The film I watched was a screener that turned to black and white with a watermark across the screen every 15 minutes. It got annoying very quickly. The final product may be of better quality, both visually and aurally. Also, the disc has none of the extras that may be on the released DVD, so I can't comment on any of those either.
As the movie nears its conclusion, it's unsure if the story will have the happiest of endings or, instead, end up with a more serious look at life in Saigon. Deep down we all want Hai and Lan to end up together; we want Thuy to be well cared for and to not have to sell flowers on the street. We want her, in fact, all of them, to find a family. We all want the fairytale. It's why these types of stories have lasted so long.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Vietnamese)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes