Green Dragon (2001)
Director: Timothy Linh Bui.
Starring: Patrick Swayze (Gunnery Sergeant Jim Lance), Forest Whitaker (Addie), Duong Don (Tai Tran), Hiep Thi Le (Thuy Hoa), Billinjer C. Tran (Duc), Kathleen Luong (Second Wife), Phuoc Quan Nguyen (Loi), Long Nguyen (Quang Hai), Catherine Ai (Hien), Phu Cuong (Old Man), Kieu Chinh (Kieu), Trung Nguyen (Minh), Jennifer Tran (Anh), Linda Tran (Thuy Hoa's Sister), Tuan Tran (Tuan).
before and after the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam War, refugee camps are set up in the US desert to accommodate over 100,000 Vietnamese immigrants
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
The USA is giving up on its long struggle to hold South Vietnam from the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. Scenes of the last days at the US Embassy for the Americans in Saigon are shown. Vietnamese desperately try to get on the planes taking the Americans back to the U.S.
April 1975. Little Minh awakens from a nightmare about explosions. He is one of the Vietnamese refugees that have come to the US. They stay in a large grouping of Quonset huts. Gunnery Sergeant Jim Lance, the senior staff NCO, uses his bullhorn to welcome the new arrivals to Camp Pendleton, California. The Sergeant stops to takes some photographs. Minh goes out looking for his mother. His uncle Tai Tran goes out looking for him. He finds him with his little sister.
On the radio, the news of the day is about the battle for the city of Xuan Lo about 40 km northeast of Saigon. "The battles involves the 18th A.R.V.N. Division and the Airborne Division of the South, who succeeded in holding off numerous assaults from the North Vietnamese Army. This is the first time in a month that the A.R.V.N. has seriously attempted to halt the Communist offensive. This is good news, maybe too late. The A.R.V.N. had recently lost Da Nang without a fight and gave the N.V.A. little resistance in Qui Nhon. The N.V.A. offensive then continued south to overtake Binh Dinh, Tuy Hoa and other coastal towns with little or no resistance from the A.R.V.N. An American commander today stated that maybe we underestimated the South's will to fight on their own. . . . The fortunate few with U.S. dollars and connections to the Americans have been purchasing visas for as much as 8,000 U.S. dollars. . . . "
A feisty young woman complains about something to the staff. She speaks about having a document from December 1972. Addie is a big African-American fellow who is a volunteer cook. A former general for the South Vietnamese keeps chanting and tapping on a piece of wood. A fellow goes outside at night to have sex with his second wife (who his first wife calls a "country whore"). She begs her husband not to leave here behind in the camp. He laughs at what he considers her foolishness.
Tai looks at the bulletin board checking for any news of his sister and brother. A Vietnamese staff worker tells Tai to write a letter about his sister and he will send it to the various refugee camps. Tai sees the feisty young woman named Anna arguing for baby food for her baby. The Vietnamese man is following the rules too strictly and won't give it to her. An American worker intervenes and tells the man to give her the baby food. Tai follows her.
Sgt. Lance speaks with Tai. Tai speaks very good English and Lance asks him to be the camp manager. The job pays $5.00 dollars per day. News of the day: "U.S. Army attaché Colonel Wahle recently outlined four evacuation plans for Americans currently in Vietnam." Addie takes a liking to little Minh. He draws a picture of the cartoon character Mighty Mouse with Minhy's face on it and gives it to the kid. A Vietnamese named Duc, who is a real hustler, speaks about making a Little Saigon one day.
The latest news is about the trouble in Cambodia: "After the last American was airlifted out of Phnom Penh, the country's capital, the Khmer Rouge arrived and began the exodus of death. Anyone with good clothes, soft hands or a well-fed look were shot and left to die along the roadside." One Vietnamese man calls his fellows "traitors" and speaks of going back to Vietnam. The first wife cuts up the clothing of the second wife and calls her names. Tai and his nephew Minh and niece Anh watch an American movie. Anna shows up to watch the movie. Tai has her sit with them. He asks her to take a walk. He learns from her that she is in the refugee camp with her sister and father.
Duc runs into the second wife and follows her. The two know each other from Vietnam. Apparently, they were once in love but life events pushed them apart. He finds her crying in the shower and speaks with her. She at first cries and hits him. He hugs her. New arrivals come in by bus. Minh and Anh look for their mother.
The news: "Earlier today, the fierce battle at Xuan Loc came to an end. The A.R.V.N. defenders of Xuan Loc fought bravely but were forced to retreat. And now with the N.V.A. within minutes of Saigon, defeat seems inevitable. Morale is at an all-time low and confusion surrounds Saigon as President Thieu resigns and is replaced by Tran Van Huong."
The Vietnamese are not eating the American fish. It is cooked with too much butter. Tai tells Lance that his people like chicken. Lance is trying to learn some phrases in the Vietnamese language.
Addie shows Minh a wall on which he has been painting a mural. Minh notices that Addie has a bad cough. Duc talks with the second wife again. She tells him: "I dare not fall in love with you again." She explains to Duc that she was very poor and accepted her future husband's offer of marriage, but he did not tell her about his first wife.
The news: "Just a few days after President Thieu resigned he has left Saigon and gone into exile. Today in his first speech to a desperate people, President Huong warns that Saigon could become . . ." (trails off)
Lance complains to Tai about a fight in the commissary. One of the refugees was accused of being a Communist because he wanted to be repatriated. His name is Quang Hai. Pending approval, he will be shipped back to Vietnam. Addie shows Minh a lot of his drawings. He tells Minh that his mother died when he was just four years of age, some 33 years ago. He has a scar on his hand from from a cigar butt, placed there by his father. His dad left him.
A Vietnamese is balling out the former general of South Vietnam, calling him a coward. Later Tai pays a visit to him. He salutes the general. Tai asks the general if he knows anything about the fate of his brother-in-law, Captain Pham Van Cuong, who was under his command. The general tells him that he died at Xuan Loc city. Addie teaches Minh to help him paint his mural. Tai teaches English to some of the refugees.
The news: "At approximately 1100 hours, Vietnam time, April 30, 1975, Communist forces entered Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. The N.V.A. forces made their way through the streets of Saigon without resistance. At 1215 hours, a T-54 tank crashed through the gate of the presidential palace. . . . And with that, the 10,000-day war comes to an end and history is written. Indeed, today is a sad day. The streets of Saigon are completely deserted. The last of the Americans have left. The Americans have lost the war. In closing, we have a statement recorded earlier this week by President Ford. 'Today America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.' "
A lot of the refugees are upset at hearing the news. The general kills himself and his two daughters cry. One of his daughters is Anna, the young feisty woman that Tai likes. Tai didn't even know that she was the general's daughter. At the funeral the daughter starts blaming Lance and hits him repeated. Tai intervenes to stop her. Later Tai tells Lance that he misses the general's constant tapping. Lance reads Tai a letter from his younger brother. The sergeant feels guilty because he talked his brother into going to Vietnam and he died there.
Minh starts watering the plant that the general planted. Tai asks Anna to marry him. She avoids answering the question. Hai still wants to go back to Vietnam, despite having his wife and child in the refugee camp with him. Tai tries to convince him to stay. He tells him that he will find him a sponsor. And he reminds him that since Hai was a soldier for the South, there is no second chance for him in Vietnam. Addie tells Minh that the green dragon in his mural symbolizes his hope to find his father.
The hustler Duc gets a sponsor in Kansas. He finds out that the second wife is pregnant. Duc asks her to leave her husband and come with him. She refuses.
There was another incidence of violence. Tai tells Lance that the men involved were not Communists. But all Lance really cares about is that there is no violence in the camp. Addie dies. Apparently, he had a terminal illness that was unknown to anyone else. Tai suggests to Lance that he speak to the Vietnamese without his bullhorn. The cooks paint over Addie's mural which is upsetting to Minh. Duc leaves the camp for his new life in Kansas. He is sad to leave the second wife behind. Minh's watering has paid off. The plant is an "ot hiem" pepper bush that produces a pepper popular with the Vietnamese.
Tai regrets that upon leaving Vietnam he took one of the three airplane seats he had instead of giving it to his sister. Anna tells Tai that she will marry him. Tai plays a group his new song about Saigon. Minh gives Anna one of the "ot hiem" peppers. A group of marines come into Tai's Quonset hut at night and grab a son and mother. Tai tries to stop the marines from taking them to no avail. The incident upsets everyone in the hut. Tai complains to Lance about the incident. He says now he has families afraid to sleep at night. Lance tells him that those who get sponsors must leave and that is final. Those taken out refused three sponsors. Tai says that the people were just afraid -- afraid of never seeing family and friends again. Then Tai resigns as camp manager.
Minh tells Uncle Tai that it was not his fault that his mother did not get out of Vietnam as of yet. Lance takes Tai shopping. When Tai returns he tells his compatriots: "I saw America today." He describes the wonderful things he saw and tells the others that they need not be afraid of going out into real world of America. They will all be able to make it. One of the men asks if the grocery stores have the "ot hiem" peppers. No is the answer, but Tai tells everyone that the peppers can be grown in America. From his pocket he takes an "ot hiem" pepper and gives it to the man who asked about the peppers.
The second wife slaps her husband. She then tells him: "Like our country, I will endure." Tai and Anna marry. They dance at their wedding reception. During the dancing, his brother arrives. He has bad news about their sister. She did not take the first boat trip that was available to her. She ran back. She did take the second boat trip but died on board. All the dead bodies were thrown overboard. Tai cries on his wedding night about his sister and is comforted by his new wife.
Tai is leaving. He asks Lance: "How can I repay you?" Lance responds: "I will miss you, Tai." Minh grabs a photo from Tai and pins it to the bulletin board. He tells Tai that the picture is for mom. When she comes to the camp, she will see it.
"In 1975, over 134,000 Vietnamese left their homeland and settled in refugee camps throughout the United States. Camp Pendleton's refugee camp officially closed on October 31, 1975. It continues to operate as the largest active marine base on the west coast."
"Today, the community of Little Saigon in southern California is home to more than 200,000 Vietnamese Americans, making it the largest gathering of Vietnamese in the world outside of Vietnam. There are currently 1.5 million Vietnamese American living across the United States."
Pretty good movie. At times it was a little slow, but I guess that reflects the reality of the camp and the armed forces: "Hurry up and wait" and wait and wait. And we did get to see a little of what life was like for some of the Vietnamese refugees. In addition, the news reports in the movie keep one abreast of what was happening in Vietnam at the time. It must have been tough to be forced by circumstances to leave Vietnam for a new life in the United States, especially since there were mixed feelings toward America among many of the refugees. As seen in the movie, some blamed the Americans for their current position as refugees. Patrick Swayze, Forest Whitaker and Duong Don as Tai Tran all gave good acting performances.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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