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Mai Review: Melodrama of Southeast Asian Social Documentary

The highest-grossing film in Vietnam finally made its way to Netflix. Tran Thanh's Mai exposes social representation in the Vietnam/Southeast ASEAN neighborhood, which is filled with drama, comedy, a lovers' quarrel, and thriller/horror spiciness.

Mai opens a new realm for Vietnamese films with a story that resonates with modern society. It is packed with social issues and problems that come and go, presented gently without the intention of being patronized.

Mai movie poster

It tells the story of Mai (Phuong Anh), a therapist who has just moved into a new apartment. Her appearance becomes new gossip for the residents in her apartment, including the playboy Duong (Tuan Tran), who lives opposite her.

Attracted by her, Duong tries to get close to Mai, including visiting her workplace. Mai becomes the new belle and makes the therapists who previously worked there jealous.

Duong realized that Mai was 8 years older, had grown-up children, and a father who liked to gamble. Moreover, various other obstacles make it difficult for their love to come true.

A complex melodrama

The film opens by introducing Mai to her new environment, a rundown apartment filled with lower-middle-class people. The first 10 minutes immediately invite the audience into Mai's new life, where she is surrounded by naughty and perverted neighbors and co-workers who do not like her.

The narrative is about Mai's life as she tries to remain steadfast in the midst of her struggle to earn a living for her child. The complex plot, with a not-too-slow pace and comedy interspersed, guides the audience, making the story enjoyable.

Phuong And and Tuan Tran in Mai movie 2024

For a commercial film, director Tran Thanh has a powerful way of making the audience touched by all the problems experienced by the main character. However, it describes the images of society as a social issue on display.

Phuong Anh emerges as a strong female character. On the other side, she gives the impression of being fragile and needs someone to lean on. Chemistry with Tran, the playboy also covered in wounds, is the spearhead of film's drama.

The color palette and stylish camerawork present romantic and heart-wrenching scenes. Even though some scenes seem too overstimulated and excessive, they do not interfere with the enjoyment of watching.

Exploring social documentary

Mai is the highest-grossing film of all time in Vietnam. With domestic revenues of $21 million (Rp. 341 billion), this film was also successfully screened in various cinemas in Europe and America, including setting a record as the best-selling Vietnamese film in America.

For a Vietnamese film, Mai tells a complex story about how society views a middle-aged woman who lives alone, labeled as a seductress and a home wrecker, not only in Vietnam but also in most of Asia.

It is difficult to carry a film that includes various societal issues but flows comfortably. Each primary and supporting character comes with problems; broken relationships and families, prejudice from neighbors and families, and other social issues.

Phuong Anh as Mai and Tuan Tran as Duong

Tran and screenwriter Binh Bong Bot are skilled at converting important issues, explaining without seeming patronizing, and providing different points of view to 'correct' what often goes unnoticed. So, there is no central villain in this film.

It isn't easy to categorize Mai into a particular genre group. This melodrama opens with various comedies to draw the audience closer to the characters. Still, it is also peppered with lilting drama, thriller, and horror with an unexpected twist.

Mai acted as a case study of social problems and issues often encountered in Southeast Asia. Despite the unforeseen and unanticipated third act dragging this film, the whole film carries an old narrative with stirring themes and narrative.

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