Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Journey From The Fall
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
If you were to liken a nation to a biblical character, then Viet Nam could easily be the Job of the world. Endlessly beleaguered by war against China, France, and segments of its own population, the relatively tiny country is a tropical beauty caught in a hailstorm of bullets and violence, wanting only peace and finding only savage aggression on which to rest her tired head. Journey From The Fall portrays the seemingly endless agony of a people, on land and at sea. It is also the story of a tropical paradise turned into a mass grave, engineered merely by differing ideologies.
Writer/Director Ham Tran’s powerful saga of endurance, loss, survival and the quest for freedom gives us information we never had before. Taken from actual stories of boat people and the survivors of re-education camps, Journey From The Fall presents a vivid window back in time. The result is a heart-wrenching, beautifully poignant film of powerful yet understated emotion. The film follows one family ripped apart by the end of the Vietnam War, the American retreat and the Fall of Saigon on April 30,1975.
Long Nguyen, played by an actor of the same name, is a South Vietnamese loyalist who sends his family ahead to escape the communist takeover. He will stay behind to continue to fight. His wife Mai (Diem Lien) protests. His mother, Ba Noi (Kieu Chinh) is more understanding but holds in her grief to be strong for grandson Lai (Nguyen Thai Nguyen). The once-close family separates and the film splits its time between the ordeals encountered by Long (captured and forced into a re-education camp) and the rest of his family (in hiding to await escape by boat).
Here the film takes us into previously uncharted territory as we follow Long’s capture and confinement. Re-education camps, (work farms really), show us inmates being forced to cultivate huge fields of crops, being beaten, thrown in “the box” (a wooden hut with mud floor version of solitary confinement) tied to stakes and being made to stand for hours in the sun. There are “classes” where “teachers” scream about traitors, demanding that they embrace the “freedom” they now have. They are made to write endless self-evaluations. Escapees face instant execution by armed guards in a tower, or being blown apart by the landmines that encircle the camp. Surreal discussions of philosophy and existentialism with the camp commandant end in a savage beating. A fat cricket makes a coveted snack.
Meanwhile, Long’s family is on its own treacherous course, escaping by night under false pretenses, into a rickety fishing boat filled to capacity with hidden human cargo. There is misery from sea sickness, lack of air and long periods of silence and inactivity. There is even greater danger from sea pirates, who routinely rape and ransack such vessels. No one is spared in these assaults and children are especially targeted. The viewer is made to see how different a mindset he has from the refugees when a heavy rainstorm brings everyone on deck for a drink of water. The viewer will at first think, “What bad luck!” This film like no other helped me understand the plight of the boat people on a first name basis. Mai, Lai, and Ba Noi, along with friends Phuong (Cat Ly) and boat captain Nam (Khanh Doan) became characters whose fate mattered to me.
Eloquent in its visual presentation, made even more so by the delicate yet powerful score by Christopher Wong, Tran’s film holds out hope for a tranquility which is not allowed to flourish. Filmed in Thailand and financed by Vietnamese Americans, Tran recreated a re-education camp aided by an actual former inmate.
Flashbacks from 1975-1981 show Long in his solitary quest to be free juxtaposed with his family’s efforts to escape. In even older flashbacks, Long recalls happier times with a unified family; simple pleasures like flying kites and preparing a communal meal. In these images, all are content and healthy without the perpetual, hunted look that would soon become the tattooed mask of daily survival.
Assimilation to American life for those who successfully made the grueling journey was challenging. Many worked multiple jobs, salvaged recyclable cans, fit in English lessons, and faced discrimination from a woefully ignorant, intolerant population. Culture shock, homesickness, tortured memories, guilt and regret all helped form an invisible but heavy yoke for the survivors to carry.
Long Nguyen’s dignified portrayal of a family man in captivity, wracked with uncertainty but filled with hope is the heart of the film. Ba Noi, as his mother, brings a subtle undercurrent of ache for her son while lavishing attention on her grandson. Diem Lien as his wife is the keeper of the terror, the one who displays the family’s collective fear on her face. There is not one actor in the film that hits a false note.
Journey From The Fall fills in many of the informational gaps that occurred when war coverage stopped but human suffering continued. The film serves as its own re-education camp, this time carrying a message of endurance and peace.