The Bui brothers—Timothy and Tony, the Silicon Valley-bred Vietnamese brothers behind Three Seasons and the new Green Dragon—have a knack for blossom-heavy lyricism, and since their films are uniquely considerate of the America-Vietnam War’s cultural blowback, they discharge a kind of imperative melancholy that’s hard to ignore. Still, Green Dragon‘s portrait of refugee angst is decidedly glossy; the grief and lostness are glimpsed rather than explored. During the conflict’s last days, California’s Camp Pendleton fills up with thousands of South Vietnamese, among them Tai (Don Duong), a bachelor accompanying his very young, motherless niece and nephew. As the boy bonds with consumptive mess-hall lug Forest Whitaker, Tai builds a friendship with sympathetic commanding officer Patrick Swayze. Around them, a displaced culture hovers in a state of limbo.
The Buis (Tony co-wrote the story and co-produced) routinely muster disarming poetry: the silent gift of a meaning-packed chile pepper; a thumbtacked photo of Tai and his charges eating ice cream; Swayze’s compulsive photographer-bullethead alone and surrounded in his darkroom by pictures of lovely Vietnamese women; a mournful montage during a newscast about the fall of Saigon, set to “White Christmas.” But the images are usually abbreviated in favor of mushy obviousness and telegraphed pathos, particularly where Whitaker’s misfit artist is concerned. Politically, Green Dragon suffers from a familiar tunnel vision—Bui’s refugees only bemoan America’s decision to abandon the war and leave the country to the Communists, never the West-initiated war itself.
A cost-nothing, love-in-New York indie so personal the screen had to be bought out ahead of time, I-fan Quirk’s Being Claudine is strictly classroom—this is, in fact, Quirk’s NYU thesis project, and even the sound mix seems to have been mastered by weedy, drunken sophomores. Savaging wooden, graceless, derivative student films is, admittedly, like punting a three-legged puppy, but that’s what Quirk and his breed get for so stupidly undervaluing filmgoers’ time. I hope Mr. and Mrs. Quirk are proud, at least.