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May 31, 2007

Aurora (Colorado) Asian Film Festival, Part 1

journey from the fall.jpg

Journey from the Fall
Ham Tran - 2006
ImaginAsian Entertainment 35mm Film

Tonight marked the beginning of the 10th annual Aurora Asian Film Festival. It was my first time attending the festival, perhaps a reflection of my own film going becoming more adventurous than in the past. This suburb directly east of Denver has developed its own identity with what use to be the central hub attracting a few galleries, restaurants, and a small community of artists. The selection of films is not as up to the minute as in New York or San Francisco, but in some cases it's the only opportunity to see these films theatrically, something that some cities miss completely.

As for Journey from the Fall, it is one of the films where artistic concerns are less important than the story being told. The fall of the title refers to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1973. Ham Tran begins his film showing a family attempting to decide what they will do amid the chaos. The film is especially useful for American audiences who usually think of the Vietnam war only from the perspective of American troops. In terms of how the conflict affected the Vietnamese, Tran's film is able to reveal what Oliver Stone wasn't able to do with Heaven and Earth.

Following the opening scene, Tran cuts between scenes of Long Ngugen, a former officer in a re-education camp, with scenes of his wife, Mai, and their son and mother-in-law, arranging to flee Vietnam by boat. The scenes taking place in the re-education camps are quite brutal. The film shows the communists as being cruel victors even towards civilians. The prisoners try to survive while logging or farming, seeking information on relatives who have successfully escaped to the United States, with usually failed attempts at escape. Mai and her family finally succeed in gaining passage on a boat, only to find that people are packed into a crowded hull with no air, and little food and water. The boat is subject to mechanical failure, and is vulnerable to pirates. The final third of the film is of Mai and her family struggling to create a life in California, their Vietnamese culture serving as a form of refuge from their respective challanges.

The film loses momentum once the scenes in the prison camp end. The intensity of the relationships between the prisoners, as well as the guards and camp officers, is of a level that The Killing Fields, for example, was unable to convey. Once the film moves from Vietnam (with Thailand standing in for the location) to California, we know that whatever problems exist are not on the life and death struggles that the characters previously faced. Especially in light of most Hollywood productions, no matter how sincere, Journey from the Fall is especially valuble in showing the how the Vietnam war affected the Vietnamese.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 31, 2007 11:33 AM