The Third Wife

Directed by Ash Mayfair
Film Movement
96 Minutes
Drama, Asian
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In late 19th century Vietnam, fourteen-year-old May becomes the third wife to a wealthy landowner. She quickly learns that she can gain status and security if she gives birth to a male child, but her burgeoning attraction to Xuan, the second wife, puts her fragile standing in jeopardy. As May observes the unfolding tragedy of forbidden love and its devastating consequences, she must make a choice, to either carry on in silence, or forge a path towards personal freedom.


  • Nguyen Phuong Tra My
  • Nu Yên-Khê Tran
  • Long Le Vu
  • Lam Thanh My
DVD Features

Commentary by director Ash Mayfair
Short film, Grasshopper, directed by Ash Mayfair
NYAFF Chat interview with director Ash Mayfair

Discs: 1

  • Highest Rating
    "[A] finespun debut feature ... The sensuality that Mayfair and Chananun Chotrungroj, the director of photography, create around May is seductive, and also unnerving."
    A.O. Scott, The New York Times
  • Highest Rating
    "...aesthetically entrancing...sensitively poetic...."
    Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter
  • Highest Rating
    "Ash Mayfair’s supremely atmospheric feature debut explores repressed desires against the resplendent but emotionally suffocating landscape of late-19th century rural Vietnam. Telling the story of a young girl who enters an arranged marriage to a landowner, The Third Wife echoes the ravishing art-house triumphs of Tran Anh Hung, who serves here as an ‘artistic advisor’, while his wife and frequent collaborator Tran Nu Yen Khe plays one of the principal roles. Yet Mayfair acquits herself in such confident fashion that her sensuously elegant drama isn’t at all hindered by the inevitable comparisons."
    John Berra, Screen Daily
  • Highest Rating
    "Debut director Ash Mayfair delivers a gorgeously intimate, evocative, and melancholy story of female subjugation in 19th-century Vietnam. [B]y focusing with unwavering empathy on the interior life of teenage bride May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My), the remarkable “The Third Wife” feels newborn and ineffably modern. Winner of prizes at both the San Sebastian and Toronto festivals, this is the rare debut that derives its freshness not from inexperience but from a balance between compassion and restraint that most filmmakers take decades to achieve."
    Jessica Kiang, Variety
  • Highest Rating
    "The visuals are key to Mayfair's success, with dialogue often kept to the minimum in favour of looks - alone or shared - that offer a window into the wives' psyches. The use of colour by Mayfair and her cinematographer Chananun Chotrungroj (Hotel Mist, Pop Aye) - mainly pastels with pops of red and yellow - also recalls the mastery displayed by Zhang Yimou in his early consideration of multiple marriages, Raise The Red Lantern. Mayfair treats her scenes of sex and desire with restraint, using juxtaposition to evoke mood...."
    Amber Wilkinson, Eye for Film
  • Highest Rating
    "The Third Wife holds our unbroken concentration for its duration, its elegiac reverence capturing our attention with its contextually heavy pans and gorgeous frames deftly telling us where to look through sheer compositional perfection. We’re watching a world crumbling under the weight of its expectations as the prisoners within discover what matters most at the cost of innocence. It’s a mesmerizing look behind a curtain torn away so Mayfair can reveal an authenticity too often masked by historical precedent and conservative acquiescence. Love is created in rebellion, but ultimately stifled by the need for survival."
    Jared Mobarak, The Film Stage
  • Highest Rating
    "This is Ash Mayfair’s first feature film and a personal story loosely based on the life of her great-grandmother. She expertly explores the subservience of women in Vietnamese and Asian cultures. Visually, The Third Wife comes off as a wonderful painting. Director of Photography Chananun Chotrungroj beautifully captures rural Vietnam, and the sets are authentic amazing."
    Alan Ng, Film Threat
  • Highest Rating
    "Writer-director Ash Mayfair’s debut feature—about a 14-year-old girl, May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My), who is married off to much older rich man in 19th-century Vietnam—is a work of quiet empathy that skillfully depicts the harsh limits of the title character’s existence without ever reveling in her despair."
    Mallory Andrews, Cinema Scope
  • Highest Rating
    "If you liked Roma, there’s a good shot that you’ll also like The Third Wife since thefilm’s aesthetic and story are similar....Ash Mayfair is very much a visually-orienteddirector just like Alfonso Cuarón"
    Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist
  • Highest Rating
    "Director Ash Mayfair depicts both ends of sexual passion -- disgust and desire -- with stunning vividness, packing every silence, every look, even the air around the characters with devastating poignancy. "
    Solomon Gustavo, City Pages
  • Highest Rating
    "...Mayfair’s visual approach is impeccable: her film looks gorgeous. Featuring stunning location photography, intense, lingering close-ups, and a careful attention to color, it’s an impressive debut feature from a very promising young filmmaker."
    John Seal, Berkeleyside
  • Highest Rating
    " exquisitely filmed movie that recalls such ’90s art-house classics as “The Scent of Green Papaya” and “Raise the Red Lantern.” It is the feature film debut of Vietnamese filmmaker Mayfair, who has an eye for detail, close-ups and color — the lush greenery of the rural setting, the yellowish red of candlelit lanterns and muted whites, blacks and grays of the costumes. Chananun Chotrungroj’s cinematography is sumptuous."
    G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle

Awards & Recognition

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