Journey from the Fall

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

Flicks Review

The Vietnam War has provided the subject material for an extensive list of movies, many of which occupy pride of place amongst the canon of classic American cinema. Up until this point though, scant attention has been paid to the stories of the Vietnamese people themselves who suffered through the conflict and became ‘boat people’, refugees that escaped the remnants of the battle zone and searched for a better life in the United States. Rookie director Ham Tran passionately puts forward this perspective in Journey From the Fall.

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.


The Peoples' Reviews

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I seen it last night. So touching and moving. Bought tears to my eyes. A must see movie!


The Press Reviews

  • Journey from the Fall re-educates as well as entertains, but never takes the easy way out, nor does it preach. In the end, it's a snippet of one family forever altered, and despite all the political undertones, it's the human level on which the film succeeds most of all. Full Review

  • An example of sophisticated, impassioned filmmaking involving mainly people who lived through the harrowing experiences so unsparingly depicted, Journey From the Fall powerfully illustrates the refugee/immigrant experience. Full Review

  • Polished, forthright, and very moving, Ham Tran’s Journey From the Fall ought to stand on its own two feet despite offhanded comparisons to Schindler’s List. It is by turns a tough and tender survival story of Vietnamese boat people that’s more intimate, less remorseful, and not in slightest bit self-righteous. Full Review

  • The film depicts one family's endurance in sturdy, old-movie style, with sweeping camerawork, a monumental and occasionally intrusive orchestral score, gorgeous yet forbidding natural vistas and enough shocking tragedies, brazen escapes and crowd-pleasing acts of defiance to fuel several action-adventure pictures. Full Review

  • Unfortunately, this potentially excellent film is marred by some bizarre story construction. The first half of the film constantly shifts back and forward between time periods, never allowing the audience to settle into the story. Such Lost-style narrative shenanigans may be trendy, but here they end up lessening the impact of a stirring and heartrending tale. Full Review

  • Tran's reliance on declamatory political dialogue and movie-of-the-week inspirationalism feels decidedly old-fashioned and, finally, even phony. Full Review