Green Dragon Review
By Max Messier
The Vietnam War is a time and place most people have chosen either to forget or to ignore as a culturally significant event in American history. Following the days and weeks after the fall of Saigon in 1975, America took upon itself the role of big brother in welcoming the mass exodus of refugees streaming from that chaotic country into its arms. Green Dragon recounts the tale of those Vietnamese refugees' arrival in America and tackles their internal struggles in leaving behind both their beloved country and family members and facing the unknown future in an alien land.
Helming the project are brothers Timothy Lihn Bui (director/screenwriter) and Tony Bui (story/producer), previously responsible for the Harvey Keitel film Three Seasons. For Green Dragon, the film uses a refugee camp as purgatory for the Vietnamese people and constructs a vivid backdrop for examining the attitudes and actions of a displaced people forging new lives.
From the opening shot of a small Vietnamese boy named Minh Pham (Trung Nguyen) stepping precariously over sleeping bodies into the bright sunshine, with an American flag billowing in the background, the film is just blatant in its intentions. Through Minh's eyes and actions during his daily search in the camp for his lost mother, we are introduced to a variety of individuals currently housed at one of the four main refugee camps - Camp Pendelton - including Minh's guilt-ridden uncle Tai Tran (Don Duong), guilt-ridden camp commander Jim Lance (Patrick Swayze), and melancholy volunteer camp cook Addie (Forest Whitaker). Guilt is rampant.
The characters, at best, stand as stereotypical effigies of general American society of the era. Swayze, who's currently undergoing a strange career resurgence since last year's Donnie Darko, handles the role of Lance - the guilty conscience of the American people over the defeat of Vietnam - with stoicism, but he lacks the conviction to generate any sympathy or interest. Whitaker's character of Addie carries the heaviest moments of the film and provides a wonderful support system for the character of Minh, but he too feels packaged and antiseptic. On the other hand, the performance of Don Duong is one of the film's highlights.
Despite an excruciatingly slow pace and the absence of any real drama, the film does develop an engaging exploration of the Vietnamese people after the destruction of their homeland. At times, the film injects a bit too much flag-waving patriotism, nor does it really explore the racial injustices faced by the refugees after their release from the camps. In the end, the film feels homogenized and a bit contrived, as if we're looking back at a tattered and ugly past with rose-tinted glasses.
Dirty dancing dragon.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 23rd April 2004
Distributed by: Silver Nitrate Films
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 11
Cast & Crew