I just watched "La Sau Rieng" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv8I62pJPWY) from beginning to end. Oh… did the waterworks flow! It was SUCH a good movie though. T made us watch it over the weekend and the second there was a plea to watch something else, he said, "Oh, let’s just fast forward it a little to the good part." The "good part" was as it turned out the point about which the knob on the waterworks was turned full blast. Once it was turned on, there was no going back. So having missed a third of the movie, I decided to go back and watch what i missed and all that did was just make everything all the more sad.
Here’s the story… a young woman (22) and young man from a poor province in Viet nam promise each other they will wait for one another as he goes off to study to become a teacher and she stays back in her rural hometown. The young man goes off to study and literally minutes after he’s left town, the young woman is forced into marriage with a rich woman’s eldest and slightly mentally ill son, whose fancy she happen to catch. This is back in the feudal era of Viet Nam when rich landlords rented out parts of their land to people who would then farm the land and pay their dues to the landlord. So you either did what your landlord / landlady wanted or they took your house, your living, everything you have and own and out the door you go.
The mentally ill son of the rich landlady gets hit by a car and dies leaving behind the young woman and a son who are now living with the rich landlady and her daughter — let’s call her mean duck waddler (she waddles back and forth when she walks…quite amusing). The young lady works day in and day out basically as a servant. To prevent her grandson from building a close bond with his own mother, the rich landlady instructs him to call his mom by "chi hai".. meaning eldest sister. Mother and son aren’t even allowed to ackhowledge each other as such.
Heart-wrenching moment #1 (where T fastforwarded to) is a scene between the young woman and her mother who has made the long an expensive journey to visit her daughter and grandson. The young woman’s mother learns from her grandson that her daughter gets beatings all the time and has to cater to the rich, fanciful whims of the in-laws. She’s shocked, saddened and remorseful to learn of the hardship her daughter has to endure. The young woman is sad for her own mom and tells her not to come visit again… to save herself heartache by considering her daughter dead and not giving another thought to her. Her fate is what is is and there’s nothing that can change. Mother and daughter separate never to see each other again.
6 years later, the young man finally tracks down the young woman (who by now has aged beyond her years due to all the manual labor and beatings from her in-laws). He arranges to meet her that evening to take her away and live the life they were meant to live 6 years ago when they promised to wait for each other. Coincidentally, that day her in-laws threaten to kick her out of their home. That evening, the young man arrives but the young woman’s heart is wrenched from the cries and pleas of her son not to leave her that she stays, giving up her chance at true love and happiness for the sake of her son.
20 years later, her son is set to be married. He’s fallen in love with the daughter of a rich family and it excited by the opportunity it’ll open up to him. Now with the collapse of the feudal system, his mom has returned to selling fish and shrimp at the market. Although a doctor, he’s poor, having to work and go to school at the same time. Ashamed of his mother’s lowly stature in society, he’s lied to his fiance and told her that his parents are dead.
There’s a heart-wrenching scene where he begs his uncle to deliver a message to his mom asking her to stay down in the rural province and not come to his wedding… that he will send her money every month, but that she can’t come to the weddinig or come visit. He speaks of being ashamed of the living his mother is making and that his rich to-be-in-laws would not approve of their daughter marrying into a poor family such as his. The son leaves and his mother comes in, having heard his words from outside the house.
Heart-wrenching scene #3… the son returns to find his mother there. She tells him that she won’t blow his cover and will return to the province and join a monastery so that no one can find her and discover that she is his mom. In an endeavor to teach him to not be driven by money but value people for who they are and to be true to himself and not such an ungrateful money-seeking person (my words, not hers), she asks him if she can just stay one night and then she will leave for good. Just one night, she’ll cook his favorite dinner, tell him stories and sing him to bed at night and then the next day will leave for the monastery. He asks her why she has to go so far and asks her not to foresake him. She tells him, "A child may leave their mother, but a mother cannot leave her child." She goes on to further say that he will always be her son but wonders aloud how when he was small she would give him pastries and candy and he would attach himself to her and follow her all around but now, after she’s given him a lifetime of dedication to raising him that he is so quick to let her go… so SAD! She goes on to further say, "No, son, I will not leave you. If I could have left you, I would have done it 20 years ago when I had the chance to start over with my life. But it was your cry and your plea that made me stay."
Just then, his fiance comes by… the mom lies and pretends she was his nanny and the fiance is estatic and warm to her… happy to meet any connection to her fiance’s family and treats her with as much affection, respect and love as is befitting. At this point, it’s just too much and the son breaks down and confesses to everything… to the identity of his mother, to lying about who his parents are, etc. His fiance is surprisingly understanding and upon learning the truth bows and apologies right away to her mother-in-law. Keep in mind, she’s the daughter of a millionaire and she’s bowing to a lower class woman who she could probably own as a servant if she wanted. Now that’s a girl with a good heart and good soul. The son asks his mom to go out back while he works things out with his fiance.
Just then, the girl’s father shows up. He’s here to put an end to all this talk of his daughter marrying this lowly son of a woman who sells fish at the market. The dad is really laying into the his daughter’s fiance. He accuses him of trying to sneak and lie his way into his family fortune and the dad will have none of that! The daughter is so distraught by the threat of her dad marrying her to some other dude that she runs off.
The mom finally makes an appearance and sees that the man criticizing, patronizing and threatening her son is none other than the young man she was in love with 26 years ago, who 20 years ago arranged a secret meeting with her to take her away and build a life together. The young man who grew up with her in the same small town and who, then, valued people’s souls more than he valued their fortune. There’s a wonderful moment where she puts him in his place. It’s evident they still in some way love one another, but upon seeing how money has changed him, she can find no affection for him. He urges her to search her memory for some remembrance of him but she rebuffs him saying that the man she once knew is now dead. That man can’t be the same one she sees before her today because that man knew and loved poor people. That man once taught and corrected unlearned, mispoken words without judging without condescending. The man she sees before her doesn’t resemble that man at all. She turns to her son and with reproach says, "Son, what is this man doing here?" Before her son can answer, the man chimes in but, ashamed of himself, can’t come out with the truth (of blocking the marriage of his daugther and her son) but also can’t lie or excuse himself. He just turns and leaves but not without one last hope, one last plea that the spark between him and the love of his life might be rekindled. But nope, she will have none of that and says to him, "There’s nothing left to say between the two of us." With that he leaves, head bowed…
Moments later, the fiance returns with a suitcase in hand. She’s packed and left her home of comfort and fortune and begs her mother-in-law to take her in, declaring her true and deep love for her son. The mother, turns to ask her son if he truly loves his fiance to which he answers that he does. With that, a smile breaks across her face as she tells the two young lovers that they need to keep each other in their hearts and strive to keep and protect that happiness and never to sacrifice it.
What a good movie!