Rambling rantings

June 4, 2007

Recently, I saw the film Journey From the Fall with my parents. For those of you who don’t know, it’s written and directed by the Vietnamese-American director, Ham Tran, and it documents the aftermath of the “Vietnam War” (the American War if you’re living in Vietnam), and the experience of immigration. The title references the fall of Saigon, April 30th 1975 (known as “the Day of Liberation” if you’re living in Vietnam), when the war officially concluded. The story follows Long, who decides to stay and fight for his country instead of fleeing. He ends up in a re-education camp with brutal conditions. His wife, son, and mother escape by boat eventually coming to the United States.

The film has been playing in major Vietnamese enclaves, such as Westminster, Houston and San Jose, which I must give mad props to. So, I’ve known that this film has been out for awhile, I haven’t seen it partly due to the fact that I’ve had to miss it the other times people have gone, and also because I wanted to watch it with my parents. Often I felt that I ended up learning about Vietnam not through my family but through books and films, placing a distance between myself. I didn’t want this to be another case of me learning about my people through a movie and not connecting it to the people in my life.

Watching the film was an overwhelming emotional experience and was making my brain go idea overload. So here are some thoughts I am harboring on it.

– During the film, there are these references to Vietnamese history, folklore and popular culture that was absolutely foreign to me. The narrative of the story is wrapped up in this story the character of the grandmother tells to the grandson, about Le Loi and Le Lai. These names are barely familiar. I only know them because they’re streets in Saigon but I don’t really know the stories behind them, and it’s one of those things that is part of the mental landscape of most vietnamese folks, that’s been drilled since school. Instead I have a sense of familiarity with Paul Bunyan, Paul Revere, Johnny Appleseed and other random white folks. Just like writers like Nguyen Du may signify literary canon, and historical significance in Vietnam, for me as much as I wish it didn’t, Shakespeare and Jane Austen are those figures for me. When I think of history I think of European history. Even as I consciously try to undo that, to tell myself these histories have been imposed upon me, where the stories of my people have been suppressed from me in the process of assimilation, I can’t change my initial impulses to identify with the West. Western history and culture will always be a part of me because it is what has sculpted me, though I do not see myself reflected in it (or when I am, it is in the role of the Other). With Vietnamese historical and cultural references, I may research them, learn more about them so I can recognize them, but I’ll always view it as something that I’ve learned, instead of as part of a cultural vocabularly that is now naturally a part of how I think. Not that the Western cultural influences are natural, they were learnt too, but at this point it is imbedded in the way I think, it’s not just what I know. Will I ever reach that level with Vietnamese culture and history? Where it becomes a part of how I see and understand the world?

– The film was a cathartic experience. Even though to an extent I had an idea about re-education camps and boat people from what I’ve read and what I’ve heard from family, etc. it was completely different to actually see the film. It just reminds me of why I was a media studies major. I can’t talk about how film is a universal language, blah blah blah and happy go lucky corny ass shit like that. There’s something about watching something on the big screen and getting wrapped up in a narrative story that impacts me in a very different way than just hearing about something, or even seeing something in a documentary. Narrative films get you inside of what is happening into the characters, while documentaries are presenting something. It’s not only about representing something that happened in history, but represent the emotions behind it.

– There is a need for more films like this about this subject matter. Though this is an amazing film, it reflects only certain perspectives of what happened on April 30th and what followed. The next bit of what I’m going to talk about is a delicate subject matter. On one hand it is easy to say the film is one-sided. The film could be seen as presenting all communists as bad, corrupt and cruel towards the prisoners in the re-education camps, and glorifying southern Vietnamese. It’s true that is showed that one perspective, and that not all communists were like that, but it is a perspective that is true, and is accurate of the experiences of many people. Not all were like that, but a good number were. I don’t think it’s the role of this film to show all the sides, but I think it’s important to not make this into the definitive film. Vietnamese communities have waited so long to have their experiences legitimized in representations, but this film should be the beginning, the text that opens the doors to other filmic depictions. Just as films about WWII come out ever year, yet still present new aspects of the history, what happened in post-war Vietnam and the experience of immigration has a million different nuances, enough to be the fodder for countless films.

It’s interesting to think about political happenings in terms of situations with players. History is constantly repeating itself, only with different sets of actors and in different types of contexts, but always showing the same stories. While watching the depictions of the re-education camp, I couldn’t help but think of all the similar/worse things that the American government has done. After the movie, my mom said “See? Now you now know why our community hates communists so much”, and I wanted to retort that that’s exactly what we are currently doing to people in Guantanamo. How can we not be doing anything? Also, watching the parts of the film about the refugee experience brought up similar questions about why aren’t we doing anything for Darfur? Since the Vietnamese community has had this experience of having to flee, why don’t we ever sympathize, no empathize with what’s going on with other communities? Why do we stay so singular in remembering our painful history and not link it to what is going on elsewhere?

-a final thing I was thinking about while watching this is why didn’t I force my friends to see it. I mentioned it, talked about how I wanted to go but never pressed the issue with my non-Vietnamese friends. With the VASA folks I was excited and motivated to go (but ended up unable to go due to various prior commitments). Parts of the reasons why I didn’t, was that it was so far, bringing people to Little Saigon. Also, I don’t know, it goes back to the issue where Vietnam is so important to me and it’s hurtful to think how to many it doesn’t matter, even to people who I care a lot about. To my non-Vietnamese friends, not consciously but maybe in the back of my head, that desire to please and have people like me which makes me a spineless pushover, thought that to these friends this film is just a long, depressing movie with subtitles. That notion is wrapped up with some internalized racism. Yeah they might think that but they shouldn’t have and it’s my job as their friend to beat it out of them and make them watch this and learn about this. I mean, to know what my community has gone through, the history of my family, friends and people, is a major part of knowing me. so friends, if you are reading, look up “Journey from the Fall”, find out where it’s playing and go watch!

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One Response to “Rambling rantings”

  1. Francesca said

    I WANT TO TALK WITH YOU ABOUT THIS MOVIE.

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