Green Dragon

There are many movies about the Vietnam War and its lasing effects on the populace, but few take the viewpoint seen in Green Dragon. This film takes place in 1975 at Camp Pendleton, a Vietnamese refuge camp near San Diego, a sort of limbo to many Vietnamese immigrants. They are escaping Communism in Vietnam by coming to America, but need sponsorship before leaving the camp. This is a personal story for writer/director Timothy Linh Bui and co-writer Tony Bui (Three Seasons, Yellow Lotus), who infuse it with a sense of delicacy and grace. It may be plain what they are trying to say and where this story is going, but the Buis still manage to add emotion to a fairly standard story.

At the heart of Green Dragon are two relationships. The first is between Sgt. Jim Lance (Patrick Swayze, Donnie Darko, Get Bruce!) and Tai Tran (Don Duong, We Were Soldiers, L'Immeuble). Lance is in charge of the camp, and hires Tran to be camp manager, because he can speak some English. Tran's nephew Minh (Trung Nguyen, Fated Vacation) and Addie (Forest Whitaker, Panic Room, Battlefield Earth) form the second one. Minh's mother did not arrive with him, his sister, and Tran. Every day, Minh wanders the camp looking for his mother. He does not interact with the other children, and Addie, one of the cooks, notices this. Addie likes to draw, and shows Minh his pictures. He wants to coax Minh out of his shell, so he has Minh help him with a mural he is painting inside one of the buildings.

The situation between Lance and Tran is more complicated. Tran feels a deep sense of guilt because he is in America and Minh's mother is not. He also feels a sense of responsibility for the people in the camp, like Lance does. Lance feels he is doing the correct thing, but the two differ on the timing. Lance, the epitome of military efficiency, wants to move the people out as soon as possible, one relevant reason being that many more are coming in. Tran feels that people need more time to adjust to America before leaving the camp. This hesitation is also present in Tran. He wants to move forward in life, but his overwhelming sense of guilt over his sister (Minh's mother) is preventing him. He asks Lance to move his file to the bottom of the pile, effectively prolonging his stay at the camp.

Bui is able to broaden the scope by telling the stories of others through the people Tran meets. He wants to present a human face on a largely indistinct population. These people have hopes and dreams, as well as diametrically differing viewpoints. By telling simple stories of people reaching out for each other, Bui easily conveys what these people were going through. The stories essentially boil down to people wanting friends, and things don't get simpler than that. Bui and the actors also use restraint. Swayze, Whitaker, and Duong all act in an understated manner, letting their actions speak for themselves. Green Dragon is at times a subtle movie that sneaks up on the audience. The emotional level of the movie is consistent until the end, when things are surprisingly moving.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 51 minutes, English and Vietnamese with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for some disturbing situations, nudity, and language.

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