Journey from the Fall(2008)
Ham Tram's debut feature, the object of much love and affection from critics, is a post-Vietnam War saga, following one family’s struggle for freedom.... More
April 30, 1975 marked the end of Vietnam's two-decade-long civil war and the time when hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the country. Long Nguyen decides to stay in Vietnam. But when he gets imprisoned in a Communist re-eductation camp, he urges his family to leave without him. They make the perilous ocean voyage in the hope of reaching the U.S. and freedom. After many years of solitary confinement and worrying that his family has perished, news finally reaches Long in the early 80s that they have settled safely in California. He is inspired to attempt another escape.Hide
BY Andreas Heinemann Flicks Writer
It begins at the end of the war with Saigon falling into communist hands. Amid the chaotic scenes we meet Long, a native who had sided with the Americans and so is sent to a communist re-education camp, a euphemism for a prison of hellish squalor. Meanwhile, his wife, mother and son attempt to escape from their homeland, unable to tolerate the brutal regime that has risen to power. Long soon follows in their footsteps by attempting to break out of the re-education camp. However, their struggles are not over when they reach America, as they must contend with the difficulties of assimilating into a new culture.
There is a lot to like here. In particular, the cinematography is breath taking. Even the nightmare that is Long’s prison existence is filmed in a way that lends it a certain ethereal beauty. The escape sequences, from both the camp and country, are also fantastic, slowly building tension and sympathy as myriad obstacles ranging from land mines to pirates, are placed in the protagonists’ path. For the first three quarters of the film, the escape is the focus and it is deeply compelling viewing.
In the final act, the film shifts focus to the family’s new struggles in California, unfortunately with less success. While valid concerns, they cannot compare to the dramatic intensity of what has come before and you can almost feel the film deflate. It barely maintains enough momentum to carry the ‘family ties threaten to dissolve’ sub-plot that is added with little set up and feels almost tacked on. Because of this, the intended emotional ending, while getting its point across, is not the tour de force that it wants to be.
Still, it is churlish to linger on small structural deficiencies when Journey From the Fall’s high points are so obvious and engrossing. Gloriously filmed, genuinely affecting and yet filled with action, it is a worthy tribute to those who suffered so much as boat people and prisoners of re-education camps, to whom the film is dedicated.