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REBUILDING LIFE AFTER THE QUAGMIRE

Journey From the Fall (Not rated) (135 min.) - To show how hungry the Vietnamese community is for a film addressing the fall of Saigon and its aftermath from the point of view of immigrants, just check the box office numbers. A year after it closed the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, Journey From the Fall grossed $309,000 on only 10 screens across the country.

Beautifully filmed by writer-director Ham Tran and his cinematographers, Guillermo Rosas (Before Night Falls) and Julie Kirkwood, the film is split in two halves: the fall of Saigon and the "re-education" of Long (Long Nguyen) in a Communist-run detention camp, while his wife, son and mother escape by boat; and the difficulties the family, without Long, have in Southern California over several years.

The scenes in Vietnam are harrowing and have a ring of authenticity. The most moving portion of the movie is later, when Long's son (Nguyen Thai Nguyen) becomes a constant disciplinary case in school, much to the consternation of his grandmother (Kieu Chinh). There is also a reunion with a neighbor who made it to Southern California as well (played by Vietnamese pop singer Cat Ly).

If there is a beef to be had, it is that Tran seems to have tried so hard to make a movie of importance that his characters often resemble archetypes as opposed to people; the game cast appears straitjacketed at times. Still, it's a story that needed to be told.

G. ALLEN JOHNSON, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

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