Journey from the Fall
Set during the thirteenth anniversay of the Vietnam War.
Tells the epic story of a family who is painfully torn apart by
the war, forced to emigrate across a dangerous sea, reunited and
struggling to survive.
Have you ever entered into conversation with a Vietnamese person
concerning his or her journey to this country? I have. Undoubtedly,
if you talk to someone who left Vietnam in the late 1970’s
or 1980’s, their story is amazing. Their journeys were frequently
terrifying stories of hardship and peril. I have great admiration
for their faith, courage, and determination.
Director Ham Tran wanted to tell the story of the plight of the
Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon. Although we have had many
fine films about the American experience in Vietnam and its aftermath,
there have been no films to tell the story from the Vietnamese
perspective. Many American movies have featured Vietnamese characters,
but always in secondary roles. Tran’s Journey from the Fall
is the first to focus on the Vietnamese side of the story, using
Vietnamese actors speaking their own language.
Journey from the Fall focuses on one Vietnamese family: the Nguyens.
The film begins with the familiar scene of the fall of Saigon
on April 30, 1975. The last helicopter is departing with the last
Americans from the roof of the U.S. Embassy. The Nguyen family
(father Long, mother Mai, young son Lai and grandmother Ba Noi)
remain in Saigon. Soon Long is captured and placed in a “re-education”
camp, run by the victorious Communists. The family decides that
it is safer for the rest of the family to try to escape the country
on a boat. Long will join them when he can.
follows is almost unbearably sad and tragic. Long is courageous
in his captivity, despite beatings and periods of time in solitary
confinement. Mai, Ba, and Lai are able to escape the country,
along with many other women and children, on a crowded fishing
boat. They endure many hardships. The crowded boat develops engine
trouble, becomes lost, and is pillaged by pirates (nothing like
the Disney pirates). The first half of the film is about the efforts
of the separated family to survive and escape to safety in America.
These scenes of suffering and violence are rightly disturbing,
and, at times, very difficult to watch. Yet the scenes are never
exploitative, or shown for cheap thrills, as in many action/horror
The second half of the film follows the family to Southern California.
The end of their physical contains new hardships for the Nguyens,
as they try to assimilate into American society. Most disconcerting
is their feeling that they must immediately let go of the past.
While other cultural groups are encouraged to talk about their
culture and homeland, the Nguyens and their friends feel that
they cannot, except among themselves. When Lai gets into trouble
in school, his principal lectures him on the hardships his grandparents
endured when they came over from Ireland. The insensitive principal
neither knows or cares about Lai’s story.
At 135 minutes, Journey from the Fall is a long and often difficult
film to watch. Viewer concentration is necessary, especially in
the first half which is all in Vietnamese. The production values
in general are very good. However, the film still seems rough
at times, especially in the transition scenes. Yet, Journey from
the Fall is an important film, not only for Vietnamese, but for
all of us. It is important in that it tells a story that so few
of us know. In this way, Journey is like Roots or Schindler’s
List, telling the stories of a people, their suffering, and their
voyage to a new land. It is a testimony to the courage and faith
of those people.
Journey from the Fall ends with a sign of hope: the family comes
together to fly a kite which they constructed from newspapers.
It is their way of remembering a similar kite-flying moment on
a holiday back in Vietnam. As in their native land, they ritualize
their commitment to one another, despite their many hardships
Ham Tran’s screenplay was written after extensive interviews
with Vietnamese families. He reports that the film was entirely
financed by the Vietnamese-American community, most of whom had
never invested in a film before. Like Tran, they knew they needed
to tell their story.
After successful screenings at film festivals, Journey from the
Fall is looking for a wider release in theaters early next year.
I hope it gets the release and attention it richly deserves.
Tom Condon, OP
Genres: Drama and War
Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.