Saturday, December 1, 2007

Commentary | "Kieu" (2006)

When we first meet the modern day Kieu, she appears to be an independent woman living a simple life alone in America. She spends her afternoons shopping for fresh produce and flowers, cooking dinner for herself, riding the bus. Her life is almost so boring that we probably wouldn’t look twice if she were a real person—which is why Kieu does such an amazing job of battling her invisibility, and as Vu Ha put it, getting an Asian American audience to open up a dialogue about the quiet experience of sex workers in our community. I felt that Ha's choice to do a narrative versus a documentary was actually more provoking with respect to this subject. Every story has to create its own world to some extent, and I think Kieu is a beautifully shot film that does justice to the sort of poetic tragedy of these women’s lives.

Though Kieu has escaped Vietnam, her family’s financial needs have forced her to essentially be captured again by the sacrifice she makes in order to survive. Kieu is forced to grapple with her own emotional journey—reconciling what she does to fulfill her obligations with her spirituality, trying to even out her sins with her good intentions. The most potent scene is when Kieu’s admirer turns up unexpectedly as a client in her massage parlor. What I liked most about it was the emotional exchange between the two characters, because their connection in this scene felt very real and true to the situation. When she says, “I don’t need you to judge me. You have a mouth just like the rest of them,” she’s not only talking to this man but also to the audience, challenging us to question our conscious and/or unconscious judgments and how understanding these women’s perspective might change them.

Company Credits (via
Production Company / Independent (Dir. Vu Ha)
Distributors / San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF)

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