Chung: Film connects generations in aftermath of Saigon’s fall
March 28, 2007
Article Launched: 03/24/2007 01:42:21 AM PDT
Click photo to enlarge
Thao Le, (at front, not related to the person behind her) of Alameda, who left… ( thu hoang ly document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.margin = “0px 0px 10px 10px”; } Can a movie break the dam of reserve that holds back years of unspeakable sorrows? Can it lead to understanding between an iPod generation and their refugee elders? It may be ambitious, but “Journey from the Fall,” an epic movie that opened Friday in San Jose, Orange County and New York, will provide the opening for thousands of Vietnamese-American families to start the difficult dialogue about what they personally experienced after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
“I’ve seen it four times, and every time I cry,” said Bao Thien Ngo, a 25-year-old De Anza College student, for whom the war’s aftermath is ancient history.
Ngo, with friend Minh Nguyen, helped spearhead the sell-out of 287 seats in Friday’s 6:45 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. downtown shows among young people. Tonight was already half-sold out, and with this weekend’s San Jose screenings of the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival, Camera 12 predicted spillover crowds.
The debut film, by 31-year-old Ham Tran, traces a fictional family’s experience after American soldiers pulled out of Vietnam. The story – which includes scenes in a re-education camp and a frightening sea passage – might as well be the Vietnamese boat people’s tale of Everyman.
“I keep thinking in the back of my mind that this was the story of my parents and my grandparents,” said Ngo.
More than $7,000 in advance group sales prompted Camera Cinemas to acquire a second print. Ngo, who is
avice president for the United Vietnamese Student Association of Northern California, was astonished that one of his high school groups bought 130 tickets so they could bring their parents. Ngo brought his grandparents to the Camera on Friday night and his mother is going tonight. Friday afternoon, Tam Phan, 53, drove up from Monterey with her sister and nephew’s family to see the film they’d been hearing so much about. Her daughter in Los Angeles was going to see it today and she hoped her son at the University of California-San Diego makes it to San Jose.
Dylan Marchetti, in charge of acquisitions for distributor ImaginAsian, saw “Journey” at the Cannes Film Festival. He said he was attracted to the small-budget film with the acting and production values of a Hollywood epic.
Tran and ImaginAsian say “Journey” is the first film about the boat people’s experience, the first film to depict the re-education camps, but that’s half true.
There have been other films about boat people – Hong Kong director Ann Hui’s “The Boat People” in 1983 and Hans Petter Moland’s “Beautiful Country” in 2004. But “Journey” is the first film to be told from the Vietnamese point of view – by Vietnamese, about Vietnamese – with authenticity and sensibility that Vietnamese viewers will recognize.
Tran, a UCLA film school graduate, listened to his grandfather’s tales of the grim conditions aboard a refugee tanker, knees crammed to chest, hardly anything to sing about – as happened in “Beautiful Country.” Tran wasn’t interested in casting recognizable Chinese-American actresses like Lucy Liu nor American characters such as Nick Nolte.
Tran, who came to the United States at age 8, made sure of that. When being an Oscar runner-up in 2004 for his short, “The Anniversary,” opened doors in Hollywood, he eschewed any investment that would make him give up control of the film. Indeed, many of the cast were not actors but had been in re-education camps or had fled on boats via the pirate-plagued seas. Tran encouraged actors to speak out if a scene did not ring true.
The film got good buzz at film festivals. ImaginAsian used “social networking” among college student associations, Vietnamese Catholic and Vietnamese veterans groups, and passed out fliers at Tet festivals. The power of a collective Vietnamese emotional experience captured the attention of young Vietnamese-Americans.
“Once you get to the second generation, we know nothing,” Ngo said. “I knew nothing about the Vietnam War or the boat people experience – even though I had family members I could ask.” His conversations with his father were less about the past than “How are you doing in school?”
For Tran, the powerful emotions underneath the surface are very present in his parents’ generation – but had been stifled.
“They raised us through silence,” Tran said about his parents’ generation. They had gone through horrendous things – rapes, torture, degradation – by the time they reached the United States, Australia, France, and even then, the fate of other family members was unknown. Yet they were faced with surviving right away.
There’s a phrase in Vietnamese – “bao qua” – you put it away in order to go on.
Yet knowing those experiences are a missing link. Mental health problems from postwar experiences, gang problems from the generation gap between parents and children, are all related to understanding the present, Ngo said.
“Aside from the fact that it’s a compelling, beautiful film, the most important reason for me to urge others to see it is because it can be a stepping stone to address contemporary issues. If you learn this, then you can understand why your parents are this way. If you learn that, someday you can find a way to address many things.”
Tran thinks it can do more. He hopes it can cross over.
Americans had to deal with the war experience through film – “Coming Home,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Hamburger Hill” and others, Tran said. “Now there are Vietnamese-Americans and we have to heal as well.”
The acknowledgment through communally experiencing a film could lead to healing the wound. “As a community we need to reconcile. Then we can put it behind us.”
All Americans could learn a little of that history past April 30, 1975.
From that common understanding, we can all go forward.
IF YOU’RE INTERESTED
See http://www.cameracinemas.com and journeyfromthefall.com.