(Vuot Song)
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Nguyen Thai Nguyen as Lai, Kieu Chinh as Ba Noi,
and Diem Lien as Mai in

©2007 ImaginAsian Pictures
While there were a few movie makers who
attempted to address the complicated topic of
the Vietnam conflict during the time it was
unfolding, filmmakers tended to wait for several
years after the end of American involvement in
the region to tackle the subject matter. Then
audiences were inundated with various features
ranging from
What was always curiously missing was the
Vietnamese side of things. Of all people, Oliver
Stone attempted to address this issue with
1993's HEAVEN & EARTH, based on the memoirs
of Le Ly Hayslip who married an American
soldier and emigrated to the United States.

Now comes an impressive and engrossing drama
that is grounded in truth:
, the feature directorial debut of Ham Tran.
Beginning with the American withdrawal from
Saigon in 1975 and spanning at least a decade
it moves from Vietnam across the Pacific to
California. While there are some minor flaws to
the film (the story is a bit too schematic and
there are a number of coincidences that strain
credulity), the movie emerges as a tribute to
those who underwent great pains to get to
America. Some of the harrowing aspects of
traveling via boat to the United States were
also covered in

Perhaps another minor flaw is the chronology of
the film, which doesn't unfold in a linear fashion
and therefore requires that the audience pay
particular attention. Those who are unfamiliar
with history may become slightly confused, but
the power of the story eventually overcomes
this flaw.

The film centers on one family and their efforts
to escape to America. Patriarch Long (Long
Nguyen) is arrested by the Communists and
sent to a re-education camp for working
alongside the Americans. Eventually he settles
into a routine, and he makes plans to escape
and join his family in the United States.

The film also follows the adventures of Long's
wife Mai (Diem Lien), his son Lai (Preston Tri
Nguyen) and his mother Ba Noi (Kieu Chinh) as
they struggle to flee the country. We see how
they had to plan their escape and the awful
conditions on the boat, including an attack by
pirates. During that raid, Mai is scarred by
scalding water and suffers burns to her chest
and upper torso.

Eventually, the story moves to California as Mai,
Lai (now played by Nguyen Thai Nguyen) and Ba
Noi struggle to make a new life. The elderly
woman continues to believe that her son is alive
and encourages her grandson to write letters to
him. The youngster, though, is having trouble
assimilating and is frequently in trouble at
school. There's also tension in the house as Mai
grows closer to Nam (Khanh Doan), the boat
captain who has assisted the family in its
travels to Southern California.

The actors deliver strong, memorable
performances and in addition to the
aforementioned cast, I would hasten to add Cat
Ly as a fellow traveler who is kidnapped by the
pirates but who later manages to make it to
America and reunites with Mai.

The film incorporates Vietnamese folklore -- like
the story of the founding of the country -- as
well as the well-worn tradition of people
receiving the wrong information only later to
learn the devastating truth.

JOURNEY FROM THE FALL is an important and
worthy film that deserves an audience.

Rating:               B-
Running time:      135 mins.
MPAA Rating:      R for some violence