‘Black Rose’ (2023) Netflix Review: Half A Star Extra For The Exposition

The 2023 Vietnamese film Black Rose is quite an animal. Not that it has a great wild beauty about it or that it has horns on its head that make it special, but that it has the head of a lion but the bust of a penguin. That has its own kind of allure, it seems. People want to watch such animals, at least for a while, because they want to decipher how they were put together. So how was Black Rose put together? It is clear from the first frame that the idea must have popped up in the maker’s mind to create a swashbuckling revenge thriller that isn’t short on adult scenes. I will have to admit that the exposition is quite gripping, and the lion takes a leap only to be failed by the slow penguin, by which I mean that the exposition is let down by things to come.

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A rabbit-eyed Thao My comes to meet Nguyen Ha, the wife of a man named Son. Son was the son of a tycoon. Ha wants to hire a caretaker, and Thao My fits the bill, but Ha doesn’t realize that My has some ulterior motives. A typical revenge thriller plot, I must say. But the way the movie starts, it is as if you are in the third act of Parasite. It has no intention to stop, and one starts to believe that the writers and the director have paved such a plot and found such a smooth way to depict everything that this is the way the exposition must be. Sadly, the exposition sets the wrong expectation. It is way too smooth, and the Hanz Zimmer-esque score in the background heightens the emotions so much that the descent is painful. 

I guess the idea was to grab the viewer’s senses in the first five minutes, for that would give them time to set up the plot. The trouble is that the plot and the characters don’t have any fascinating details about them. The intrigue here is obvious: why does Thao My want to get into Ha’s life? What does she want? It is natural that such questions arise, and the trick for making a thriller work, in my mind, will be to make this answer be overpowered by the actions of the characters. That happens in Black Rose, but there is a clear objective to these actions, and that is for adult scenes to occupy the frame one after the other. That’s another way, I guess, to keep the viewer in their seats. Thao My’s actions make it clear she wants to break Ha’s marriage, and the plot gets complicated when she involves herself in Son’s business. She entangles herself in another affair when she gives in to advances offered by Hoang, Son’s colleague.

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The problem with the film is that it has to keep things moving at a mile a minute at all times. It never really gets a breather. Someone has said that sex scenes aren’t what move the story forward, and that sounds right. How the action unfolds in a scene, or the subtext behind the scene, is what makes it interesting. Black Rose is a little lacking in that department. So what can it do then? It can throw you completely off track with a few quick edits here and there and bringing in the angles of the father and son. Son and his father don’t have the best of relations, and Nhu, Son’s sister, wants to capitalize on that fact. Does this addition to the story serve any real purpose? To be honest, no.

As the movie progresses, such diversions keep coming, and ultimately, the original motive, which had something to do with why Thao My Ha entered Ha’s life, is also revealed, but it’s too underwhelming. There is no zest left. The twist has no meaning by then. What happens afterwards seems to have been taken right out of a pulpy novel, and it’s not even funny. But all the while, when the journey unfolds, the entertainment is simply produced by the fact that there is a lion’s head on a penguin’s body, as I said earlier. 

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The movie runs almost 110 minutes, which is just a tad bit too much for such a story, and the multiple adult scenes are to blame. It is surprising how some scenes, which could have been given some time, are edited as if to make it seem like we are running out of time. The characters in this film all have the energy of a raging bull. They are ready to attack one another, and there is bottled anger in all of them. I think it’s the performances that make the character seem so. It’s what I call the ‘neck-up’ acting, where the expression is held only in the face, which is why it seems forced with a hollow intensity. You can still make a good movie by phoning it in sometimes, but the editing has to work perfectly. It is only in the exposition that it happens. 

My’s character is given absolutely no backstory, and we simply learn that she owes her landlord some money. Son and Ha’s marriage is perfect at one point, yet when My comes to seduce him, it doesn’t take much time. All the movie has done for the seduction to be established is that Son catches her smoking, and later he hears her having a shower. Similarly, there are gaping holes in the characters’ backstories, which ultimately make the film a bottomless bucket where everything can go in but nothing will stick. Black Rose didn’t know what it was until it did, and it was too late by then to make any adjustments. As an adult thriller, it just overextends itself, and as a revenge thriller, it doesn’t have the right tone to keep us hooked. The characters in the film are inconsistent, and the final twist borders on being lame. The exposition worked with the precise cinematography and the spirit of the montage sequences from Parasite. Other than that and a pulsating background score, Black Rose doesn’t cross the borders and gets stuck in generic-thriller land. It did have a chance to jump over at one point but got stuck in the barbed wires on the border. 

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Ayush Awasthi
Ayush Awasthi
Ayush is a perpetual dreamer, constantly dreaming of perfect cinematic shots and hoping he can create one of his own someday.

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As an adult thriller, it just overextends itself, and as a revenge thriller, it doesn't have the right tone to keep us hooked.'Black Rose' (2023) Netflix Review: Half A Star Extra For The Exposition