The best stories are those told by someone who really knows. In the case of The Green Dragon, writer/director Timothy Linh Bui, convincingly captures what it feels like to be a refugee --because he once was one.
In the closing days of the infamous Vietnam War, 100,000 displaced citizens were brought to various camps in the United States with the promised opportunity to continue their lives in a free country. As the weeks and months passed in these Quonset hut and tent cities, the attitudes of the penned-up people awaiting sponsorships evolved into an increasingly diverse spectrum. Some were eager to embrace American capitalism. Others felt they should return to fight for their country. Falling between these two extremes, the vast majority were simply afraid of trying to make a new life in a foreign land where they would ultimately be scattered across the fifty States.
For Camp Pendelton California resident Tai Tran (Don Duong), the sweet new hope is tainted by a bitter secret. Acting as a translator for the US Army because he can speak English, the quiet man is promoted to Camp Manager by Sergeant Jim Lance (Patrick Swayze). The responsibility of maintaining positive morale among the refugees weighs heavily on Tai, but the position also affords him an increased ability to help his young niece and nephew search for their missing mother.
This movie excels at depicting the struggles faced by a refugee immigrant. Diet changes, differing political views, and despair at the news of Saigon's fall (to which a character responds by taking his life -- a bloodied wrist is seen) are just a few. Another character faces the wrath of his wife when it is revealed he took a second spouse before immigrating, forcing them to meet secretly and providing two brief sensuous moments. Meanwhile, Tai must wrestle with his own dragons of guilt and grief that culminate in a scene where he lays naked and sorrowing on the cold shower room floor (seen from behind).
Green Dragon uses it's scant $2 million budget to make us feel the unavoidable culture clash, awakening empathy for both sides. This effective drama not only portrays an angle of the Vietnam conflict not often seen, it also provides insight into the plight of refugees from any country.