Three Seasons (Vietnamese: Ba Mùa) is a 1999 American-made Vietnamese-language film, set and shot in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam. The story has no main character or central plot, but has several characters whose stories intertwine: Kien An, a girl working in the lotus fields; Hai, a cyclo (a sort of bicycle-cab) driver; Woody, a young boy selling trinkets on the street; Lan, a high-class prostitute with dreams of a better life; and Token White James Hager, come to Ho Chi Minh to find the daughter he never knew he had.
The film is known for it's lovely visuals and a narrative that repeatedly converges and separates as characters struggle to find purpose in an ever-changing world.
This film contains the following tropes:
- Advertised Extra: Not an extra, but the advertising plays up Harvey Keitel's role as James Hager. One American poster◊ awkwardly superimposes his giant face over the normal poster◊, and he usually is given top billing despite not being the central character, for some reason.
- Asian Baby Mama: Hager hadn't been to the city since it was Saigon, and when he left after the Vietnam War, he hadn't even known that he was leaving a child behind. He comes back to the city upon finding out that his Asian Baby Mama had died.
- Asian Hooker Stereotype: Unsurprisingly, prostitution is a huge racket in Ho Chi Minh City, especially for tourists.
- Dawn of an Era:
- The theme of the urban scenes. Vietnam is undergoing Đổi Mới, a time of aggressive modernization, industrialization, and tourism to boot. Lan in particular represents the present, wearing modern clothes and catering to foreigners, embracing the present over the past.
- In a meta sense, the film also represents this in of itself. It is the first American movie to be filmed in Vietnam after Bill Clinton normalized relations with the country.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Bordering on Stalker with a Crush, Hai's feeling for Lan lead to him waiting outside of hotels in hopes of picking her up and bringing her home. Eventually his Grand Romantic Gesture wins her over in the end.
- End of an Age: The theme of the scenes at Teacher Dao's garden. The other side of the Dawn of an Era is the fact that old practices, traditions, and customs fall wayside. This is best embodied when Kien An laments that she hadn't sold a single lotus that day because tourists and Vietnamese alike have taken to simply purchasing plastic flowers.
- The Fool: Woody, a naive child sort of ambles through the city, getting into and out of scrapes. He supposedly represents Vietnam's future and the many possibilities therein, both positive and negative.
- The Handicapped and the Helper: Kien An takes the role of being Teacher Dao's "fingers" and writes down his poetry.
- High-Class Call Girl: Lan, the prostitute who primarily caters to wealthy foreigners. She opens her purse and it's full of crisp American $50 bills, she dresses in classy (yet flashy) western styles, and is invited to spend the night in luxurious air-conditioned hotel rooms.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Teacher Dao is revealed to have been quite handsome in his youth, before leprosy and age took his looks.
- Tragic Dream: Lao dreams of returning to his hometown, visiting the floating market and releasing a sea of white lotuses to blanket the river. Unfortunately, due to his ailing health, this is impossible. Kien An recreates his dream by doing precisely this in his honor.