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The Third Wife 2018

The Third Wife | Nguoi Vo Ba

The Third Wife-Nguoi Vo Ba

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Arriving to her new life by ceremonial canoe is May, the 14-year-old third wife of a wealthy landowner in 19th century rural Vietnam.

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About The Third Wife 💬

  • Based on True Events.

THE THIRD WIFE chronicles the days of May from childhood to motherhood in a time and place in which women are expected to suppress their desires while performing duties for men.

Entrapped in a cocoon of traditions, newly-wed May must realize that flying free will come at a high price.

In the late 19th century in rural Vietnam, Fourteen-year-old May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) becomes the third wife of wealthy landowner Hung (Long Le Vu). She quickly needs to adapt to her new home: relationship with the other wives, playing with the children, and of course competition and family politics...

Soon she learns that she can only gain status by asserting herself as a woman who can give birth to a male child. May's hope to change her status turns into a real and tantalizing possibility when she gets pregnant. However, her path is fraught with danger when May starts to develop an attraction for Xuan (Mai Thu Huong Maya), the second wife. Faced with forbidden love and its devastating consequences, May finally comes to an understanding of the brutal truth: the options available to her are few and far between.

THE THIRD WIFE is the debut feature of writer-director Ash Mayfair.


THE THIRD WIFE is inspired by the history of my family. It is a coming-of-age story, a tale of love and self-discovery in a time when were rarely given a voice.

The themes of women's sexuality, the growth from childhood to adulthood and the individual's struggle within a conservative patriarchal society have always fascinated me. I grew up in Vietnam, a society that held traditions, history, and community to be more valuable than personal independence. The heroine of this story embarks on a journey where her identity must assume many roles, that of a child, a woman, a wife, a lover, and eventually a mother.

The men and women in my script are all drawn from real people, connected to the rural landscape of the country. The story, although fictitious, is a tapestry woven from many true events. Both my great-grandmother and my grandmother had arranged marriages at a young age. My great-grandmother lived in a polygamous marriage from when she was a teenager until the end of her life. The history of arranged marriages is deep-rooted and I was drawn to the subject not only because of my familial heritage but also because this is, unfortunately, a practice that still exists in several countries in the world.

The themes of sexuality and sensuality in the film, therefore, had to be handled delicately. Nevertheless, I did not want to shy away from portraying what would be emotionally truthful. May's desire for Xuan, coupled with her pregnancy and the shock of living in such a circumstance at a very young age would naturally force her to grow beyond her years. May's wedding night and the rituals involved stemmed from ancient Vietnamese traditions brought to my attention by the actors themselves during the rehearsal period. I was fortunate to have had a very sensitive and mature actress in the leading role who understood the demanding nature of the part, whose family was also extremely supportive. May's journey in the film became much richer because my actress was able to give the character her own emotional resonance, bringing her personal understanding and sympathy to the story. Within the socio-political background of the period, I felt that it was important to address the subject matter of love and desire with as much candor as possible. It is not my intention to portray these women as victims. Rather, May is a soul capable of so much more than the roles prescribed to her by society, not unlike the fates of many women in our present time.

As a child, tales of incredible circumstances involving birth and death, child rearing, living as a concubine and the ensuing consequences, lost love and found comfort, were the wellsprings that nourished my imagination. When we embarked on the journey to make this film five years ago, I found that many people I talked to during my research and preparation have lived through similar experiences or have had family members with nearly identical fates to my characters. During the making of the film, it was important that the cast and crew understood the way life was in a very intimate way. I held long improvisational rehearsal periods when the cast would live and interact in costumes and in characters. The set was designed in a way that was historically exact and each of the separate spaces in the manor would provide a completely immersive experience for the actors. I lived on set for several weeks during the rewrite of the script in order to properly absorb the feeling of the landscape. During rehearsals, I worked with the cast very closely on every aspect of their characters, using historical research, literature, painting and music to inform ourselves of the thought process of people in the period. I was lucky to have grown up in a land enriched by a prominent history of folklore. The oral tradition of Vietnamese art and literature has given me a deep appreciation for the musicality of the language whose poetic sensibility I hope to bring forward in the film.

In terms of aesthetics, the visual choices of THE THIRD WIFE are largely informed by the landscape and cultural traditions of northern Vietnam, the birthplace of my great-grandparents. Nature is a dominant symbolic force closely tied to spirituality and religion. People's lives and habits were informed by the movement of the sun and the seasons. It was, therefore, important to portray this using as much natural light as possible. Our Director of Photography went through a lot of experiments using live fire for lighting during night time scenes because I did not want any artificial feeling to permeate the frame. Consequently, THE THIRD WIFE has a painterly approach to cinematography. The stillness of most of the composition comes from the desire to make every frame as close as possible to a watercolor painting.

As an artist, I believe that THE THIRD WIFE is a story that needs to be told not just because it is deeply personal to me but also because the themes explored and the lives unfolded carry universal significance. Being separated from a loved one is devastating for men and women of any decade. The struggle between an individual's desires and the duty owed to one's family affects people of every class, race, and gender. Girls and women everywhere still suffer from a lack of education and professional opportunities, even in modern, developed societies. I became a filmmaker because no other medium has given me as efficient a way to reach out and connect with others. The beauty of the screen for me is not only escapist but also transformative. This film will have moments that are blunt, uncomfortable, harrowing and painful. However, I hope that it will also be forgiving, generous, humorous, loving and sensual, much like the many lives I have had the privilege to witness.

Ash Mayfair

The Third Wife Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Ash Mayfair

Writing Credits

Ash Mayfair


Nguyen Phuong Tra My

Long Le Vu

Nu Yên-Khê Tran

Mai Thu Huong Maya

Nguyen Phuong Tra My

Nhu Quynh Nguyen

Nguyen Thanh Tam

Lam Thanh My

Music by

An Ton That

Cinematography by

Chananun Chotrungroj

Genre: Drama

Country: Vietnam

The Third Wife Official Trailer

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