Set in among a waterey swamp world in 1940's Vietnam a fifteen-year-old boy named Kim (Le The Lu) decides to head to the nearest fields to find grass to feed his weak and starving buffalo. He knows by doing this he cannot harvest the crops for his mother and ailing father who are getting to old too work.
Along the way Kim considers joining a group of nomads who are moving a large herd of buffalo in the same direction. They are a rough and tumble bunch who prove more of a threat to Kim - and everyone else - than an asset but he joins them for a while anyway because they provide an opportunity to work.
Eventually, though, Kim moves on and joins up with a new friend to start a business under the noses of the dominate herders - who have threatened to kill them for such an act. In the process of all this danger he meets and falls in love with his friend's girlfriend - who has a five-year-old son in tow.
The Buffalo Boy is a coming-of-age film and it is filled with many of the plot points that make up this genre - yet it does not feel formulaic. Yes, the boy deals with inner turmoil, yes, he falls in love and yes, he meets people who challenge him along the way helping him to grow up but none of this is handled in typical fashion. Partly this is because the setting, the time and the place but also because the director chooses to present situations in unique ways.
The direction, by Minh Nguyen-Vo, is slow paced but engaging. He takes the time to let scenes develop and with long single takes he lets us see the world Kim inhabits. He also presents an almost surreal world submerged in waste deep water; a world where water signifies death as much as life.
Simple and direct The Buffalo Boy goes almost exactly where you expect it to go yet it is ultimately an epic film. Epic not in the grand scheme of the word but epic in a personal way in that it deals with a myriad of hopes and fears, trials and tribulations and the sadness of loss that all people deal with in some way or another. In short, it deals with the cycles life and death but in ways that Hollywood never could and never would.