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Kieu

A day in the life of a Vietnamese refugee turned Stateside masseuse provides the framework for "Kieu." Collaboratively created under first-time feature helmer Vu T. Thu Ha, pic's potentially lurid subject is treated with almost excessive restraint. Emphasis on poetic delicacy over reality is admirable, even if the tight rein on character insight and dramatic incident finally make this short feature feel like an elongated short subject.

With:
With: Kathy Uyen, Christopher Dinh, Le Thi Ngoc Minh, Nguyen Van Lam, Mai Thi Phuong, Phan Mong Nhu Thuy, Tran Minh Dung, Nguyen Thi Son Tuyen.

A day in the life of a Vietnamese refugee turned Stateside masseuse provides the framework for “Kieu.” Collaboratively created under first-time feature helmer Vu T. Thu Ha, pic’s potentially lurid subject is treated with almost excessive restraint. Emphasis on poetic delicacy over reality is admirable, even if the tight rein on character insight and dramatic incident finally make this short feature feel like an elongated short subject.

Pic was inspired by 200-year-old epic poem “Truyen Kieu,” wherein a virtuous young woman endures endless degradation and suffering. But lit connection will elude most viewers watching present-day Kieu (Kathy Uyen) wake in her modest San Francisco flat, spend the afternoon shopping, then reluctantly head off to the massage/prostitution biz where fellow workers share camaraderie but no joy. Flashbacks (some shot in the Philippines’ Vietville, where a colony of “boat people” still live) provide fragmentary info of Kieu’s past traumas and the beloved family she supports long-distance. Most potent scene is when her smitten grocery clerk (Christopher Dinh) shows up unexpectedly as a nighttime client, mortifying them both. But narrative is diffuse, impact ephemeral. Attractive score highlights the thoughtful package.

Kieu

Production: A Sycamore Street Girl Gang production. Produced by Vu T. Thu Ha, Debbie Ng. Directed by Vu T. Thu Ha. Screenplay, Lisa Asagi, Maiana Minahal, Debbie Ng, Leilani Ly-Huong Nguyen, Jacqueline Thu-Huong Vu, Ha.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Carla M. Roley; editors, Leilani Medina Lumen, Narissa Lee, Kar Yin Tham, Andrea Chignoli, Ha; music, Q String Quartet; production designer, Nguyen. Reviewed at San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival, March 19, 2006. English, Vietnamese dialogue. Running time 74 MIN.

With: With: Kathy Uyen, Christopher Dinh, Le Thi Ngoc Minh, Nguyen Van Lam, Mai Thi Phuong, Phan Mong Nhu Thuy, Tran Minh Dung, Nguyen Thi Son Tuyen.

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