If You’ve Never Seen A Vietnamese Movie, Let Dreamy Eyes Be Your First

Dept. of Unrequited Loves


There’s a moment, about three quarters of the way through Dreamy Eyes (Mắt Biếc), when I wondered if this movie was going to go to a really weird place. If it was going to take a dramatic left turn and possibly ruin everything that had come before it. Thankfully it didn’t happen, but let’s just say director Victor Vu could have veered on to Woody Allen-Soon-Yi territory and done an absolute disservice to the story.

The Story So Far

Dreamy Eyes tells the story of Ngan, who falls in love with Hà Lan when they were both 6 years old. As they grow older, we follow the blossoming love Ngan has for Hà Lan, until she eventually moves to the big city to go to high school. Hà Lan takes to the big city a little too much, falling for Ngan’s rich cousin, only for him to break her heart and leave her pregnant. Throughout all of this, Ngan’s love for Hà Lan hasn’t wavered as he takes care of her during her pregnancy, eventually taking care of Hà Lan’s daughter Trà Long, as they both move back to the village, her to live with Hà Lan’s mother, and Ngan, having graduated, to teach in the small village school.

As the years go by, Ngan continues to be a friend to both Hà Lan, who stayed in the city as a seamstress, and her daughter Trà Long, back in the village. Trà Long, now 18, falls for Ngan, now in his 30s, and in the closest of close calls, Ngan rebuffs her advances towards him. In a cruel twist of fate, Hà Lan finally realises the error of her ways, only for her to miss her chance to tell Ngan how she feels for him, as he gets on a train and leaves the village forever.

Dreamy Eyes But No Happy Ending

As I sat in the cinema, trying to figure out what I just watched, I realised that Dreamy Eyes, like most of life, is a tragic romance. Basically, at the end of the movie, no one ends up with the person they love, and everyone is left heartbroken. The end.

Vietnam’s submission for the 93rd Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film is best described as sweet, despite that very melancholy description. The moments that make up Dreamy Eyes never feel overplayed for the melodrama. Not the fight that breaks out when Ngan confronts his cousin Dung after he breaks Hà Lan’s heart. Not when Ngan runs out in the rain at night to beg neighbours for food for Hà Lan and her newborn baby. Not when Ngan walks Trà Long to the bus to take her to the city to continue her studies, him loving her as a surrogate daughter, she loving him as something more.

Dreamy Eyes’ Runaway Train

In less capable hands (read: most mainstream Malaysian directors), Dreamy Eyes would have very easily strayed into the melodramatic and the scandalous. But Victor Vu never lets any of it get too much, or too far. Everyone has humanity in them, from Ngan himself, rebuffing a school mate who had been pining for him for more than 10 years, to Hà Lan never admitting her feelings for Ngan due to her own insecurities. Even Dung, Ngan’s cousin who slept with Hà Lan is given some depth, as his marriage proposal to Hà Lan is turned down by his own father. No one is truly at fault, but everyone is the cause of their own misery.

As the movie reaches its climax, with Ngan sitting on a train to a faraway land, we see Hà Lan, running to catch it. She runs along the platform as the train pulls away. Her path blocked, she jumps on to the tracks and continues to give chase. But director Victor Vu doesn’t let her win. In the end, Dreamy Eyes doesn’t have a happy ending. Ngan sits on the train as he cries, having finally given up on a love he has carried for 30 years. Hà Lan stands on the train tracks, unable to chase after a man that has loved her and her daughter.

Dreamy Eyes is a beautiful, poignant movie about unrequited love in a setting that I for one had seen so little of. If you’re a fan of cinema, then you really owe it to yourself to watch this. If you’re a fan of big blockbuster movies, then this movie may not be for you. But give it a chance anyway. I didn’t think Dreamy Eyes was for me, but boy was I wrong.

Dreamy Eyes is streaming on Netflix.

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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