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The Third Wife - Film Review

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by Jen (subscribe)
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Published July 19th 2019
A seductive picture of life in a patriarchal society

Set in 19th century Vietnam, fourteen year old May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) journeys to become the third wife of wealthy landowner Hung (Le Vu Long). Warmly welcomed by first wife Mistress Ha (Tran Nu Yen Khe) and second, Mistress Xuan (Mai Thu Huong Maya) she soon learns the pecking order of the estate and her place within in. Beneath their warmth, the sharing of their experiences, and playful talk of seduction, is a layer of watchfulness, as the young May threatens their place in the household when she falls pregnant.

It's apparent that mother figure, cook and housekeeper Aunty Lo is of comfort to everyone as she prepares meals and nurtures the whole family. It is from Aunty Lo that May learns how important it is to produce a son and heir to be considered a real lady of the house. In the household, there's Hung's ageing father, Mistress Ha and her son of marrying age, Mistress Xuan and her three young daughters Lien, Nhan, and baby Dove and a host of others on the premises who take care of the estate.


This 90 minute film by writer, director and producer Ash Mayfair in her directorial debut is based on a true story in the traditions of Vietnam, and it's MA 15 Rated more from sexual and sensual innuendos (which eloquently speak far louder), than actual sex scenes. Young actress May's role harks back to the reality of arranged marriages and child brides, a situation that still happens today for a variety of reasons, some of it monetary.

The cinematography (by Chananun Chotrungroj) is achingly beautiful and sets and reflects the tempo and rhythm of life on the estate. The musical score (by sound designer Edouard Morin and composer Ton That An) hits all the right notes in relaying the emotions and nuances of the film. Dialogue is minimal, which further supports the quietness of life on the estate. Superstitions and beliefs strewn throughout the film, gives you insight into the customs and rituals people live by, and you just might pick up some tips on home brewed medicinal potions.


Sparse dialogue means the focus is on facial expressions, body language and strong performances to relay what is being said without being voiced, and the women are flawless in getting that across. So subtle are some of the expressions; yet the undercurrent of gestures of true and false emotions and intentions are clearly put across.

May will take you on a journey as she grows from an innocent journeying to her fate and future, to realising what is expected of her. Watch her manoeuvre her life as best she can, in the limited space of freedom she is allowed. Join her in her desperation as the cloak of a claustrophobic environment dawns upon her. There's a sense of weariness as she tries to reach for the faint breeze of freedom, trying to find a balance between self and expectations.

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Your Comment
Great review, Jen!
by Elaine (score: 3|6475) 29 days ago
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