She’s the Boss (Vietnam, 2017) [CAAMFest 2017]

She’s the Boss is Vietnam’s take on the Thai hit, ATM Er Rak Error (2012), which places romance in conflict with various security issues. Subject to the “no fraternization” policy of the bank where they are both employed, office manager Oanh (Miu Le) and junior employee Cuong (Ɖo An) are keeping their relationship secret so as not to compromise their jobs. This is until Cuong proposes to Oanh, which brings the dilemma of who is going to quit. On the day of a big soccer match, one of their bank’s cash machines experiences technical glitches after technicians failed to update the machine’s software. The machine, now giving out 4 times the money its users withdraw, makes the bank lose 240 million Vietnamese dongs. With their positions at stake, Cuong and Oanh must race to retrieve the money which has been given out by the broken machine.

Presented as a multi-character narrative by director Ham Tran, the film is also heavy on slapstick comedy, which works in tandem with the richly colored scenes and hyper-kinetic editing. This over-stylized approach provides a blend from the best of stylized filmmaking from the two hemisphere of the globe: the editing rhythm and framing is reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001) while the eccentricities of the visual elements recall Wisit Sasanatieng’s Citizen Dog (2003). Tran tries to appeal universally through form and content, while retaining elements specific to its country of origin (represented in the film are Buddhism and Vietnamese brand of small taxis).

The malfunctioning ATM provides the central theme. The machine itself was made unsecure by the technicians who were too excited about the soccer match to do their work. It seems to say something about the necessity of placing duty before feelings.

Cuong and Oanh, both wanting to retain their work and also their relationship both decided to face the challenge of reclaiming the money their bank lost. However, with their complicated situation, their task escalated from a simple competition to a chaotic cat-and-mouse hunt. The film presents both dilemmas as if it there is no contradiction whatsoever, that both issues of love and job security organically coexist and are necessary to bring them to the next part of their life.

This issues of love and security are relevant to other couples in the movie, too: Boi (Thanh Pham) and Gai (Ngoc Thao) are being asked to separate by Gai’s mother Phi Van (Le Khanh) due to Boi’s inability to provide a living to Gai. Boi then feels that he has hit the jackpot when he is able to make four withdrawals from the malfunctioning cash machine, and Gai, in effect, then feels more secure with Boi. Meanwhile, Phi Van is also in conflict with her husband, Man Hieu (Mai The Hiep) who is insecure with the affection his wife’s giving to her dog, Pilot. Man Hieu depends on the advice of a fortune teller to get his wife back. Phi Van, on the other hand, uses the banking error to feel more financially secure by investing the excess money in her laundry business.

The unsecured machine reflects the love between different couples in the film who are dealing with different kinds of uncertainties – uncertainties which are decided by the duties each and every individual in the film represents. In the end, the malfunctioning machine never really solves anything between the couples and only brings them more trouble. The film offers an interesting answer to this trouble: restructuring “balance” and “status quo” – simply fix the machine, revert the excesses, and everything will be fine.

There really are corporate organisations whose official policies do not allow any romantic relationships between employees. The dilemma presented by She’s the Boss opens the doors for a necessary discussion on the nature of such policies: for example, why do Cuang and Oanh never question the policy in the first place? Answers may vary: there could be cultural-specific reasons or it points to their naïveté about the wide-scale control of capital to human life. One thing’s for sure, the way the film highlights this relationship between security and romance provides a wider perspective of love but in relation to other aspects of modern life, while serving as a useful escapist prompt for dialogue on this topic.

She’s The Boss was shown on March 12 at CAAMFest 2017.

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