This quiet Vietnamese film tells the story of Huyen, a young girl, maybe 17 years old, who is pregnant and living alone in a small apartment in Hanoi. She can’t tell her parents, her boyfriend is a bit of an idiot, and she doesn’t have the money for an abortion. She’s afraid – of the pain of labour, of dying whilst pregnant, of the pain of an abortion, of telling her parents. She drifts from day to day, knowing she must make a decision but seemingly paralyzed in her doubt and immaturity. Her boyfriend’s idea of helping her is to fight his rooster in cock fights run by thugs and so win the money they need. This doesn’t go so well and he runs out on her.
This sounds a bit depressing but it’s not a sad film. Huyen is a little pathetic but we empathise with her and her inability to move forward. The film has a strong sense of place, we are absorbed into the narrow, noisy streets of Hanoi, the dripping roofs, the heat, the constant sounds and smells of people. Huyen’s main support is her transgender sex-worker friend who injects a welcome element of humour and character into the film. She is unlike Huyen, she is not afraid to act and take responsibility for herself. She comes up with a solution that will allow Huyen to earn the money she needs.
The first scene of this film is Huyen’s boyfriend, who works repairing street lights, finding some small fish trapped in water that has pooled in a street light cover, high above the road. He takes the cover, fish and all, and gives it to Huyen. These fish are an occasional motif in the film. The couple talk as they watch the fish and eventually Huyen flushes them away, after her boyfriend has left and when she must take responsibility for herself. It was only after the film that I thought about its title. Of course it is the fish that are flapping in the middle of nowhere. They are out of place, suddenly in a situation that it unknown to them, unable to move on. It is also Huyen. Something fundamental has shifted in her life and she can no longer shut her eyes and wish it away, she must grow up.