A Film a Week - The House With No Man / Nha Ba Nu

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

Tran Thanh is a popular Vietnamese TV-show host, actor and, from recently filmmaker who has found a formula that works, at least from the financial point of view, with the success of his debut “Bo Gia” (2021, co-directed with Ngoc Dang Vu). The recipe was simple: a family-themed comedy-drama with slight romantic overtones was released in the less-busy winter period and earned over 17 million dollars, mostly domestically and in the nearby territories. With his newest film, and his first solo directorial effort, “The House with No Man”, he upgraded the formula by amplifying the romantic angle and timing the release in the time of the Tet holiday (the fact that it is also close to the Valentine’s Day also helps), and it resulted in the income of 18 million dollars so far, before even opening outside Vietnam.

Originally titled “Nha Ba Nu” (translatable as “Grandma’s House”), the film follows the youngest daughter in a three-generational household, Nhi (Hyunh Uyen An), and her attempts at love and life. The household is commanded by her mother Nu (Le Giang) and the conservative and rough “management style” she employs in the house is similar as the one she employs in the family-owned crab restaurant. Nhi wants to make a career as a designer, but she has to work as a server there, together with her sister, while the brother-in-law (played by the director himself), the only man in the house, but certainly not the man of the house, does the deliveries. The loving grandmother is there to provide some much needed support for the young women.

The things get complicated when Nhi is introduced to the young, rich and handsome John (Song Luan) through her friend. The two fall in love with each other, but the problems occur in the form of their parents. Nu is distrustful towards men in general and John’s parents are basically snobs who reject Nhi because of her class. On top of that, they already met her: she accidentally spilled soup over them in the restaurant. Can love conquer everything once they lose their support network: Nhi her family and John his parents’ money?

No matter how adept Tran Thanh as an actor is, he is still pretty green as a filmmaker, which is one of the core problems with “The House with No Man”. Firstly, the script written by Nguyen Huu Tuong Vi is far from perfect: dialogue-wise, it is too clumsy and it heavily relies on the tropes of the genres it adopts and sheds way too often. Sometimes it is refreshingly counter-intuitive, but more usually it feels like a missed opportunity. For instance, when this Romeo-and-Juliette-type of story takes a turn, we do not get to see a serious story about a young couple trying to make it on their own, but an equally rigid, cliché-ridden melodrama.

The feeling of intensity and extremity is amplified by the equally clumsy directing that aims for exaggeration of basically everything the movie consists of. The music is almost omni-present and always along the lines of the topic of a singular scene. Colour scheme of Saigon in the festive Tet times is beautiful, but camerawork is usually too busy. The actors always work in a through-the-roof emotional register. Finally, the treatment of the film genres is quite simplistic: comedy is on the verge of slapstick, romance feels phony and melodrama comes dangerously close to the realm of involuntary parody with its over-the-top sentimentality.

However, low-brow as it is, “The House with No Man” will have absolutely no trouble finding its audience among those who are looking for a family friendly comedy-drama covered in a thoroughly sanitized romance. But the critics will prove to be a tougher nut to crack.

No comments:

Post a Comment