A Review of the “Journey From The Fall”

By Sidney Tran

The much-anticipated movie by independent filmmaker and writer, Ham Tran was shown at the Visual Communications Film Festival at the Director’s Guild of America in Hollywood.  Simply put, for Vietnamese Americans, it is a story that is long overdue.  This film poignantly reflects their experience in their own voice, not Hollywood’s version of Vietnamese refugees at the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  The movie was done with great care, authenticity, and research.  These attributes were on display throughout the entire movie.  The language of the film was in Vietnamese with English subtitle, which certainly added to the realistic dimension of the experience.  The cast consisted of Vietnamese film legend, Kieu Chinh, and new upcoming actors like Long Nguyen, and Diem Lien.  The portrayals that these actors and others showed in the movie were very moving and genuine.  Ham Tran also used real life re-education and boat people survivors for other roles in the movie.  This aspect made the film more memorable because there are certain experiences that cannot be replicated by acting.  It really showed through by these real life survivors.  It is great to see a younger generation of Vietnamese Americans working to catalog and narrate the Vietnamese overseas experience for the general public.  In the long run, maybe this type of work will educate and elucidate what the Vietnamese people had to endure during that time. 

            The message for this movie can easily be understood by anyone.  Its message was universal regardless of differences in nationality, religion, ethnicity or race.  At times, it was very, very hard to watch, especially if you are Vietnamese.  If a Viet Kieu who did not personally go through this ordeal, chances are, he or she will know of someone who did.  Most likely it could be his father, mother, aunt, or uncle.  It’s very fitting that this movie was dedicated to the “millions of boat people and to the victims of the re-education camps”.  It was reported that some people tried to buy this movie from Ham Tran in order to bury and hide this movie from the public.  I am glad this effort was not successful because the memory of this experience is important for all of humanity.  The universal message that I got from this film was that, for some, suffering has the ability to bring out the best in humanity.  It brings out the love that resides in all of us.  This point was made clear when the film captured the voice of the wife of one of the re-education prisoners searching for her husband from one prison camp to another never knowing where he is.  She goes on looking for him refusing to leave Vietnam because her husband’s spirit was still in Vietnam.  The selfless act of searching and caring about the people we love.  In addition to the sacrifice and hardship that one endures for the sake of our loved ones are meaningful lessons for all of us.

            One of the main protagonists for this film was played by Long Nguyen as the character with the same name.  He personified the million of souls who were sent to the gulags unjustly.  His ordeal encapsulates the experience of thousands of soldiers, officials, intellectuals, clergy men, and others who were on the receiving end of Hanoi’s vindictiveness.  Quite simply, his performance was quite impressive.  Long Nguyen characterized the quiet dignity of a prisoner who endures his ordeal without ever losing his own sense of humanity in the process.  Long’s character seemed quite normal and human.  Unlike a character who is bigger than life itself.  It is a type of character we can all identified with.  One memorable moment in the film recounts, how he asks his tormentor, “do you know the difference between a normal prison than from a re-education prison?”  He answers the question himself, “the difference is in a normal prison, the inmate knows what his crime is and how long his prison sentence is”.  Communist Vietnam still tries to avoid addressing this irony.   Present day Vietnam seeks to erase the memory of the camps.  There are no markers, memorials nor cemeteries for the victims of the communist gulag.  Yet there are thousands of these survivors all over the world.  The war may have ended in April of ‘75 but the suffering continued on a grander scale.  The world should know about the inhumanity that existed in a unified Vietnam.  It is my hope that the “Journey From The Fall” will make this possible.

            The other message was from the point of view of the women who were affected by the loss of their husbands through the re-education camps.  They became the main caregiver for their children; they held the family together through this ordeal and the journey to flee from Vietnam.  The cruelest ordeal for these women; is not knowing where their husbands are or even if they are still alive.  It makes me appreciate the fortitude and the strong will of Vietnamese women to endure the injustices of circumstance.  It was heartbreaking to see these women being victimized by pirates who preyed on these defenseless people.  The rape and brutality were common occurrences during this period on the open seas.  It was a tragic humanitarian crisis most chose to forget or cared about.  I wonder why Jane Fonda didn’t cry out in indignation about the fate of these women.  My guess is that the cry of injustice is not always consistent or applicable in all cases.  I hope the future generations of young Vietnamese Americans will appreciate the resiliency of their parents and grand parents to endure such hardships.  They should be proud that they come from a people that withstood all that the communists, the pirates, and the perils of the high seas gave them, and they have survived!  As of this writing, Ham Tran is still looking for distribution for this movie.                    

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