Review: 'Journey From the Fall' vivid and authentic 

"Journey From the Fall" has an air of authenticity about it, and for good reason. Writer-director Ham Tran meticulously spent years gathering the long-untold stories of what happened to millions of Vietnamese people after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. For many, it was just the beginning of their problems. "Journey From the Fall" reveals, in sumptuous, often horrifying detail, the lives of people forced into difficult futures — in re-education camps, where they suffered abuse and indignities, or fleeing on boats, where the terror of the unknown was equally real.

Yet Tran, who financed the film with money from Vietnamese businesspeople in the United States, succeeds in another of his goals: to tell a personal story as well, to put real faces on the Vietnamese people, who often blend into the background in Hollywood movies about Vietnam. Here, for the first time on Western film, is a story about the Vietnam War told from a Vietnamese perspective.

At the beginning, Long Nguyen (played by Long Nguyen) instructs his tearful wife Mai (Diem Lien) to leave the country without him. Yet he doesn’t want to flee his home; despite being on the losing side of the war, he wants to stay around, and not yet give up on the place for which he fought so hard.

At the same time, he convinces Mai to taketheir son Lai (Nguyen Thai Nguyen) and his mother Ba Noi (Kieu Chinh) away. All involved encounter long, arduous journeys.

Long ends up in a communist re-education camp, essentially a prison where the inmates are fed political propaganda and forced to do hard labor. Taking abuse for years, finally, after urging from friends, he decides to escape.

Meanwhile, Mai, Lai and Ba Noi anxiously await their future, leaving on a boat with no notice, being the victims of a horrible attack at sea, and ending up in Southern California where they’re thrust into a culture they can barely begin to understand — and one that has little patience for understanding them.

Although the scenes and stories in "Journey From the Fall" are significant simply for being told at long last, the film is more than a necessary document. Tran breathes life into the characters’ struggles, while cinematographers Guillermo Rosas and Julie Kirkwood capture not only the terror of people in trouble, but also the beauty of the Southeastern Asian landscape (the movie was shot in Thailand), and, in the end, the spirit of humanity.

Journey From the Fall ***

Starring Long Nguyen, Diem Lien, Kieu Chinh

Written and directed by Ham Tran

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Playing at The 4 Star in San Francisco and Century in Daly City

In Vietnamese with English subtitles

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Leslie Katz

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