Sometimes a movie comes along that manages to lighten your mood without ever having to disturb your intellect or deepen your understanding. That movie is “Fool for Love”.
The Vietnamese title is “De Mai Tinh”. In Vietnamese, this means, “Let’s decide tomorrow”. The filmmakers chose an English title that doesn’t come close to the Vietnamese meaning. But in an age where movies are deemed successful based on their mass appeal, the English title makes a kind of sense. The title advertises what kind of movie it is — a romantic comedy. And romantic comedies can become big hits for the movie industry.
Yet the unimaginative English title doesn’t do justice to the movie, which is light and surprisingly sweet. Half of the pleasure comes from hearing Vietnamese on the big screen in downtown Seattle. It is refreshing to hear Vietnamese as dialogue and see English as subtitles.
The other pleasure is the language itself. “De Mai Tinh” is an apt title and the words suggest whimsy and tenuousness. The phrase can be used in conversations about events that haven’t occurred yet. For example, something wonderful is being discussed and the event in question could happen tomorrow or not depending on fate. A Vietnamese person would say “De Mai Tinh”—let’s discuss tomorrow —to end a conversation when over-discussion may jinx an event from ever happening. The phrase holds positivity and hope.
Language matters in a movie that is about love, banter, comedy, and manners. This is such a movie. Set in the seaside retreat of Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, the story involves three main characters: Dung, Mai, and Hoi. They’re roles are a lowly hotel clerk, a lounge club singer, and a gay businessman.
Mai and Dung—the D in his name is pronounced like a soft ‘g’—are introduced in the women’s restroom. While cleaning the women’s restroom Dung finds himself embarrassingly caught between a toilet and a female patron dying to use it. Mai rescues him. Romance ensues.
Dung falls for Mai and follows her from Saigon to Nha Trang where she has a show. Strapped for cash Dung takes on a job as a driver for Hoi, a character so gay it is beyond my memory to identify anyone in the history of cinema “gayer”. Comedy ensues.
This movie is probably a ‘first’—it may be the first romantic-comedy to be a blockbuster in Vietnam. A Vietnamese actor friend of mine who happened to be filming his own movie in Vietnam last April went to see De Mai Tinh’s release near Saigon and reports that it played to a huge audience — even competing with American movies playing at the time.
The movie has star appeal. The chemistry between Dustin Nguyen and Kathy Uyen is hard to contest. Their kissing scene caused ripples to run through the audience in the Seattle screening. Dustin Nguyen, only a tad bit older looking than in his “21 Jump Street” television days, has the craggy charms of a Sean Penn. Kathy Uyen, another American, looks like she is actually singing the Vietnamese covers. She is the mirror of graceful Vietnamese femininity, albeit a westernized version of it. Both looked good in swimsuits and in less.
The film shows much of its American origins. The language may be authentic but the situational comedy is slapstick reminiscent of the TV series “Three’s Company” and the movie “La Cage Aux Folles”. The look of the film is all quality: Nha Trang looks so glamorous in one scene I could have mistaken it for Palm Springs.
The false note is Thai Hoa’s character, Hoi, who plays a kind of gay yenta and matchmaker for the two. With him, less is definitely more. The unfortunate stereotyping that accompanied his characterization solicited laughs. This is fine in a comedy, except it has all been done before.
See this movie for four reasons: If you believe in lasting romance between a hotel clerk and female singer on the rise; if you want to hear some lovely Vietnamese songs and covers; if you want to see how far an actor can take his gay character; and finally if you want see Dustin Nguyen do an admirable job of playing it straight in the midst of it all.