Blu-ray Review: Journey From The Fall

Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews, Top Story

When the last U.S. helicopter left Saigon as the communist army of North Vietnam entered the city, a lot of people in America imagined the decades long Vietnam conflict was over. Americans wanted to act like the war was over on April 30, 1975. The communists made it seem like everyone left behind was happy in their unified country. Way too many people in America agreed. They became angry when boatloads of formerly-South Vietnamese citizens took to the sea seeking refuge. Those who fought with American troops were left behind and surrounded by the enemy. They didn’t have much a friend in America. Journey From The Fall (Vượt Sóng) is the plight of a family left behind on that bloody day.

Before the movie starts, we’re told the legend of Le Loi, a simple fisherman. The Chinese were in the process of invading Vietnam when he captures a turtle. This turns out to be the Turtle God. When Le Loi apologizes and releases him, the turtle grants him a sword. The sword transforms Le Loi into a soldier so powerful that he leads Vietnam against the invaders and becomes the first emperor. He doesn’t return the sword and so the Turtle God curses his country so that it will always be in turmoil. And turmoil is what the Nguyen family experiences on the day that Saigon falls. Long Nguyen (Long Nguyen) is a soldier in the South Vietnam Army. He is not ready to surrender. He orders his wife Mai (Diem Lien), son (Nguyen Thai Nguyen) and mother-in-law (Joy Luck Club’s Kieu Chinh) to head to the countryside and try to escape. Long’s time as a rebel doesn’t last long. The communists capture him. He’s forced to write what he did during the war. Because of his role in the army, he’s taken to a re-education camp in the forest. He’s viewed as an enemy of the revolution. The punishment goes on for years as his clothes become rags. His family is able to get on a fishing boat that’s heading toward Malayasia. It is not a pleasure cruise to freedom. Both sides of the family struggle to survive and see a peaceful spot.

The second half of the film deals with the family settling in Southern California. They cope with all they went through and what is happening to them in this new land. Writer-director Ham Tran brings both ends of the journey to the screen deftly. The action scenes are riveting as well as the emotional moments between the characters. While most of the actors are non-professionals, the cast is extremely convincing. Long Nguyen shows the plight of his character in the re-education camp. Diem Lien is a singer (still performing around the Southern California) and gets to the frustration of a mother who wants to protect her family without knowing the fate of her husband. Kieu Chinh has been working constantly in Hollywood in movies and TV over the years. She plays the grandmother just right for the perilous escape and adapting to the new life. The movie is completely focused on what the family did to survive makes; The lack of an American showing up to save the day makes it a gripping story about the experience.

Journey From The Fall was part of the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. The film had a theatrical release back in 2007. While the movie played festivals all over the world, it remains banned in Vietnam by the Communist Government. They’d rather think it was a happy reunion when Saigon fell. Journey From The Fall remains an emotionally powerful film.

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The Video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer keeps the grain. The Audio is Vietnamese 5.1 DTS-HD MA. There’s also a LPCM 2.0 stereo mix that’s in Vietnamese. A Spanish dub is in 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The movie is subtitled in English and Spanish. You do have a choice where only the Vietnamese dialogue is subtitled or subtitles for that and the English characters.

The Making of Journey From The Fall (38:44) has Ham Tram talk about how this is the film he was preparing to make when he enrolled in film school. He wanted to make a point that the war didn’t end when the U.S. Troops left Saigon. This was a civil war and the people in South Vietnam had to deal with it. He couldn’t shoot in Vietnam. He location scouted in the country and had places rebuilt in Thailand. The behind-the-scenes footage shows the heavy rain and flooding during the shoot.

Alternate Cut: Packaging Sequence (1:32) has them hiding things in their possessions.

Alternate Ending (9:05) would be a spoiler to describe.

Cast & Crew Roundtable (129:37) has director Ham Tran with actors and many key crew members on a stage watching the film. This works out better than an audio commentary as we watch the microphone get passed around. There’s also art and clips from the shoot flashed during the talks. An actress talks about her experience seeing the reenactment of the Fall of Saigon since she was there when it really happened. They talk about the re-education camps that took place when the North Vietnamese took over. This was recorded in 2006.

Cast & Crew Interviews (5:29) includes director Ham Tran, actor Long Nguyen, actor Kieu Chinh, producer Lam Nguyen, actor Cat Ly and actor Son Pham. Nguyen says that the film is looking for truth. Pham talks about his real time in the reeducation camp.

Original Trailer (2:24) has the Sundance and other indie film and festival honor.

TV Spots (1:00) talks about what happened after the US Troops pulled out,

Promotional Featurette (4:20) is a shorter version showing the scope of the film and the amount of mud on the Thailand locations.

TV Intro from Kieu Chinh (1:11) makes us know that it was made by Vietnamese refugees for Vietnamese refugees. This is an appeal for the community to come out to see the film.

B-Roll Footage (6:47) has more footage from the re-education camp, the escape through the city and the boat

Blu-ray Trailer (2:19) uses the new transfer.

Testimonials (33:11) has real people talk about their experience in the re-education camps. They talk about being told it was only going to be for a ten days and they were there for years.

The Legend of Le Loi is a text summary of the story about Vietnam’s first emperor. This was before people put in the legend of the Turtle God and the sword.

Historical Background summarizes what happened after the war in Vietnam and those that escaped. There is mention of the second wave of Boat People that happened when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and had a border fight with China.

Whole-Grain Pictures present Journey From The Fall. Directed by Ham Tran. Screenplay by Ham Tran. Starring Diem Lien, Kieu Chinh, Long Nguyen, Nguyen Thai Nguyen, Cat Ly & Xavier Ortiz. Running Time: 130 minutes. Rating: Rated R. Release Date: July 9, 2024.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.