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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4
It's not nice for a mom to abandon her child. Look at how such
an action traumatized Samara, the little girl in Gore Verbinski's
horror movie "The Ring." Thrown into a well whose top is covered
by her mother, she seeks video vengeance. "Let's go to the
videotape" is not what you want to hear if you're in possession of
a black cartridge bearing no source on its label.
No one is thrown down a well in Gail Dolgin and Vicente
Franco's stirring documentary, "Daughter from Danang," but the
title character is abandoned not once but twice by her moms, and
has been traumatized as though she were indeed tossed into a
well. Heidi Bub, born Mai Thi Hiep in Danang, Vietnam in 1968
during the height of the Vietnam War, does not want to leave her
mother. Her mother does not want to abandon her. But
persuaded that once the Viet Cong win they will douse mixed-race
children with gasoline and burn them alive, her mother, Mai Thi
Kim tearfully deposits her half-American, half-Vietnamese little girl
with a social services agency. She is taken to Tennessee and
raised by a single mother who never should have been in the
adoption business. This adoptive mother went ballistic as soon
as Heidi began dating, locked her out of the house when the teen
missed her 11 a.m. curfew, and ultimately washed her hands of
the poor young woman, who could pass for all-American with her
rotund features and southern-fried accent.
When Heidi searched the 'net, presumably looking for some film
reviews, she realized that the computer could be her way back to
her birth mother after a 22-year separation. Traveling to Danang
with a translator, Tran Tuong Nhu, an excited 32-year-old hopped
an Air Vietnam where she is filmed every step of the way from
airline seat to the shabby but livable quarter of Mai Thi Kim. She
is treated like a queen by her mom who shows off her now-married
daughter to the whole town.
So what do we have here yet another travelogue? Happily no.
So many histrionics are provided by Heidi that at the screening I
attended loud discussions were in progress about the traveling
woman. I was in the camp that found her naive, ignorant, and
obnoxious al the things that make for first-class soap opera and
provide a mirror into Heidi's character.
Heidi had been taken by her adoptive mother to places like
Hawaii, which made the latter into an "after all I've done for you
this is the way you treat me" kind of woman. But she had
apparently never been to an undeveloped country. Living now in a
decent home with her career-Navy husband, John Bub and a
couple of kids, she was not prepared for the abject poverty of the
Southeast Asian land. Never mind that she was not a tourist but
someone excited about visiting her mother. This spoiled piece of
work exclaimed in front of the camera which was recording
everything that she couldn't wait to get back home. And this after
four days of being treated like royalty! The tension reaches a
boiling point when on her last day of this seven-day sojourn,
members of her birth mother's family ask her to help support her
poverty-stricken mom. No specific sum is requested. For all we
know Heidi can do well shelling out a thousand bucks a year.
Instead of saying with the brio of someone who falsely exclaims,
"Let's do lunch" that "Fine, mom, I'll go back home and see what I
can do," Heidi breaks down into tears right in front of the camera.
She refuses to offer a cent. Talk about a lack of diplomacy!
As I stated, this is what makes for drama. Given the sincerity of
the daughter from Danang, which is to say her stupidity and
cupidity and downright selfishness, Gail Dolgin and Vicente
Franco's doc is a trip...a round one at that.
Copyright © 2002 Harvey Karten