Review: Green Dragon

Green Dragon feels strangely akin to a gushy episode of M*A*S*H, only this time from an Asian perspective.

Green Dragon
Photo: Silver Nitrate Releasing

In Timothy Linh Bui’s Green Dragon, a refugee camp in California becomes a purgatory between yesterday’s war-torn Vietnam and the promise of tomorrow’s American Way. Bui remains curiously apolitical if only because he’s more interested with sensitivity training at Camp Pendleton than he is with pointing blame at any one side for the Vietnam War. The film’s characters are in awe of what lies behind the mountains just beyond the camp’s gates and while Bui seems to acknowledge their naïveté (one man’s desire for a Cadillac, the $2.10 minimum wage they’ll all be making), in the end it’s difficult to gauge who’s really being naïve: the characters or the filmmakers. With help from Sergeant Jim Lane (Patrick Swayze), Tai Tran (Don Duong) prolongs his stay at the camp in hopes of one day seeing his sister arrive safely in America. His young nephew, Minh Pham (Trung Nguyen), dreams of his mommy and Mighty Mouse; things get maudlin rather quickly when the little boy meets a volunteer cook named Addie (Forest Whitaker), whose drawings tell ham-fisted tales of parent/child alienation and, most curiously, slavery in America. Addie bonds with little Minh and together they paint a multi-cultural Goodwill America mural that could have easily been left over from Timothy’s brother Tony Bui’s Three Seasons. Bui seems hesitant to tackle the uncertainty and fear of American life, not to mention the threat of violence and prejudice against Vietnamese citizens. Poor Whitaker coughs after spewing wisdom, suggesting that Minh will be mourning more than his mother by the time he leaves Camp Pendleton. And while the lack of closure and overall sense of loss and hopelessness are unmistakably earnest, without scenes of terror-in-Vietnam and Vietnamese integration into an American landscape, Green Dragon feels strangely akin to a gushy episode of M*A*S*H, only this time from an Asian perspective.

Score: 
 Cast: Patrick Swayze, Forest Whitaker, Don Duong, Hiep Thi Le, Trung Hieu Nguyen, Catherine Ai, Kieu Chinh, James D. Dever  Director: Timothy Linh Bui  Screenwriter: Timothy Linh Bui, Tony Bui  Distributor: Silver Nitrate Releasing  Running Time: 115 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2002  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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