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Just Saw [Insert Movie Title Here]...

...or how my MFA in screenwriting ruined any chance of enjoying a movie like a normal person. If I apply what I've learned to existing films, would it have made a better film?

SPOILER WARNING: Please be advised, I plan to discuss plot points in detail so if you haven't seen the movie and don't want the surprise ruined, stop here.

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Location: California, United States

Friday, May 05, 2006

Journey From the Fall

Written and directed by Ham Tran
Produced by Lam Nguyen

I'm not easily moved by a film. I'm conscious of the subtle and not so subtle emotional manipulations that tell me what I'm supposed to feel. However, the emotional bond that connects a family separated by war is devastatingly powerful as shown by the skillful hand of Ham Tran.

After the fall of Saigon, Long is sent to a re-education camp where he is subjected to both mental and physical abuse. Escape is a futile endeavor met with death from either from a guard's rifle shot or from surrounding landmines. He has sent his wife (Mai), son and mother on a dangerous journey to America onboard a small fishing boat ill suited for the task.

Long is told by the guards that his family is dead, killed by pirates at sea. In Orange County, California, Mai believes her husband was executed through official reports. Through a chance meeting Mai receives information that Long might be alive. She engineers a covert delivery of letters, drawings and photographs which Long receives.

Structurally, the film found its own storytelling rhythm. It did not have predictable act breaks and employed a parallel structure (read: non linear narrative) that enhanced the emotional impact of its revelations.

There are no fancy twists or ironic turns. As Americans we can't begin to fathom what it must feel like to part with loved ones and live only on the distant hope that one day we might be reunited. What does it mean to be forcibly uprooted from your home on pain of death? Can you move on to new lives and new loves when the fate of so many family and friends are unknown? No words could express this as eloquently as the expressions conveyed by the cast.

In the Q&A session after the film, a cast member commented that they didn't have to act. The story in the film is very familiar to them in that they either lived it (as a boat person when they were a child) or it touched someone close to them (as in the re-education camps). It's a luxury that most Americans don't have to live with these emotions so close to the surface or have to bury them so deep in order to keep your sanity.

Journey From the Fall measures the cost of war not in destroyed buildings, spent missiles or in a cold, statistical body count but by showing how one family copes with the unknown fates of their loved ones. Complex, powerful and raw (and technically accomplished), Journey From the Fall deserves a theatrical release. Let's hope they find a distributor.


Blogger kristina wong said...

i found your blog! that pic of you is very flattering.

May 06, 2006 8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this film as a judge for the Newport Beach Film Fest. I agree with your comments. It was very powerful. But, in the end, it felt like two films to me. The cutting back and forth lessened the impact of the stories. Either could have stood on their own as a film. Once the father was killed, the other story didn't seem relevent anymore. I think that'll work against it in it's search for distribution

May 18, 2006 10:04 AM  

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