In the new Vietnam, at the Apocalypse Now bar in Saigon, ex-GI James Hager (Harvey Keitel) searches for the daughter he left behind after the war. Outside, street kid Woody (Nguyen Huu Duoc) sells cheap souvenirs to the tourists who are changing the face of his country. Kien An (Nguyen Ngoc Hiep), a young girl who works for a leprous poet, picks lotus flowers that serve as a shimmering reminder of traditional Vietnamese beauty. Hai (Don Duong), a poor cyclo driver, enters a race that will help him afford a night with Lan (Zo’ Bui), the prostitute he taxis to and from clients.
These are the stories that intersect in Three Seasons, the first American feature to be shot in Vietnam since the war — Keitel served as executive producer — and the first film to win both the Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Three Seasons is also the first feature to be written and directed by Tony Bui, 26, who was two years old when his family fled Saigon for California. Bui was nineteen before he returned to his native land. Since then, he’s been trying to make a film that would connect him to a country the rest of the world sees in terms of war.
Given that history, it would be gratifying to report that Three Seasons realizes all of Bui’s ambitions. Sadly, it does not. The dramatic vignettes rarely rise above superficiality. But on a visual level — Lisa Rinzler’s cinematography is truly lyrical — the film achieves wonders. In showing a transitional Vietnam caught between tradition and commerce, Bui uncovers his country’s grieving heart.