Adapted from a collection of short stories by Vietnamese writer Son Nam, this beautiful film offers a rare, poetic glimpse of life in rural Vietnam during the French occupation. Like many other poor tenant rice farmers in the southern province of Ca Mau, 15-year-old Kim (Le The Lu) and his parents depend entirely their two buffalo for their livelihood. This...read more
Adapted from a collection of short stories by Vietnamese writer Son Nam, this beautiful film offers a rare, poetic glimpse of life in rural Vietnam during the French occupation. Like many other poor tenant rice farmers in the southern province of Ca Mau, 15-year-old Kim (Le The Lu) and his parents depend entirely their two buffalo for their livelihood. This year's rainy season, however, has hit hard, and the rains have rotted the grass on which the buffalo feed. Kim's mother fears that unless the animals are moved to another region, they'll starve to death. Kim's ailing father, Dinh (Nguyen Huu Thanh), at first insists that they can't afford to hire professional herder Lap (Vo Hoang Nhan), who passes through with his gang, but Dinh soon has second thoughts. Too sick to make the journey himself, he entrusts Kim with the beasts and tells him to find Lap, who's en route to the paradisical Mount Ba-The with a large herd, and offer him 10 baskets of rice in exchange for driving both animals. Mother is horrified at the suggestion herders are notorious thieves and vagabonds but Dinh, an old herder himself, insists it will be a great experience for the young man. After a day's journey wading through often chest-high water, Kim catches up with Lap, who initially rejects the offer. But after another herder falls ill, he agrees to take on the buffalo if Kim will help drive the herd. Kim's education in the herder's way of life begins that night, when he spies Lap raping a young woman. Over the next few days he's introduced to both drink and narcotic "weed," and during a brawl with a travelling gang of woodcutters, he sees a man stabbed to death. When the rainy season ends, Kim returns home to his parents but announces that he's eager to rejoin the herders. He intends to start his own gang with his Khmer friend, Det (Kra Zan Sram), even if it means abandoning his parents. Despite the exotic locale, this is a coming-of-age tale that should be familiar to anyone raised on the tales of Jack London or Robert Louis Stevenson, stories in which a young innocent falls in with a rough crowd and learns the ways of men. Here, however, pride and male braggadocio are soon tempered by regret, resignation and the wisdom that only age and the experience of death can confer.
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