An occasionally interesting but basically formulaic Asian meller, “The Teardrop Pearl of Ha Long” isn’t the breakthrough pic that will put Vietnamese cinema up on the map. This yarn of true love thwarted by a combo of social pressures and cross-border politics is specialized fest fare at best.
Story opens in the late ’70s in a picturesque bay community in northwest Vietnam, where ethnic Chinese have long settled alongside locals.
Young Chinese potter A-Chau is in love with fisherman Quang but is forced by her mother and family benefactor Ma to marry the latter’s spoiled son, Ma Cuong, also of Chinese origin.
Despite A-Chau’s objections, and the fact that Ma himself married a Vietnamese, Sen, the elders stick to their guns — until A-Chau and Quang elope by boat.
The lovers hide out with some coral divers until A-Chau’s pregnancy forces her to return to her village. Soon after giving birth to a son, A-Chau is forced to join the exodus of ethnic Chinese back to China on the outbreak of the Sino-Vietnamese border war in 1978. Quang stays at home with their kid.
Pic closes with a happy ending 12 years later upon cessation of hostilities.
Despite some ravishing photography of Ha Long bay and good use of natural locations, the movie is let down by coy acting from the leads and plot developments clearly signaled several reels ahead.
Despite that, the movie has a simple charm that is often quite affecting for audiences prepared to make the stretch and accept the genre’s cliches. One sequence, of the pair making love in a watery cave, is fairly explicit by Vietnamese standards.
Tech credits are generally good, with an eclectic score that shifts between Western and Eastern, and lensing only occasionally let down by poor color processing.