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3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Daughter from Danang
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brian McKay

"Downer from Danang"
4 stars

Hey kids, do you like tales of sadness, abandonment, and general human misery? Would you like to experience brief moments of joy before being drop-kicked to the head with the realization that the human condition generally sucks? Well break out the kleenex and the razor blades, and get yourself a copy of DAUGHTER FROM DANANG

Heidi is a married woman in her thirties with a thick southern accent. Despite her slightly darker complexion and slightly almond-shaped eyes, you'd never guess that she wasn't just a tanned white girl from Louisiana. Heidi was in fact born under the name Hiep, the daughter of an American soldier and Vietnamese woman. She was sent to the states during "Operation Babylift" at the age of 6. She was then adopted by a single mother, told not to discuss where she came from, and completely Americanized.

Although Operation Babylift is not the focus of the documentary, it is covered fairly in-depth, including the haphazard and seemingly callous nature in which the operation was conducted. Although its official purpose was to get Amerasian children out of Vietnam before they were slaughtered by the encroaching Viet Cong forces, the notion that it was a ploy to gain sympathy (and funding) for the war effort is also considered. Once the children arrived in San Francisco, they were apparently doled out to the first adoptive parents that lined up to take them. This explains how a single woman was able to adopt Hiep/Heidi so quickly and easily, without having to deal with the red tape that normally surrounds the adoption proceedings (including the standard dual-parent requirement).

After a falling out with her adoptive mother (which is never fully explained, although it's indicated that her mom was a bit of a nut), Heidi decides to seek out her birth mother with the goal of visiting Vietnam and being reunited with her. Although she is able to realize this goal, she quickly discovers after the initially joyful and tearful reunion, that she bit off more than she can chew.

Although her Vietnamese relatives seem to be very loving and receptive towards her, Heidi finds herself smothered and distinctly uncomfortable with all the attention and affection. She is even more overwhelmed by the family's request to help support her aging mother. Not understanding the cultural traditions that require the most financially stable offspring to provide for care of the parents, she misinterprets their requests as money grubbing from the "rich" American. All these factors lead to a parting that is definitely more bitter than sweet.

Whether it means to or not, Daughter from Danang is somewhat damning of the American culture Heidi grew up in. Members of her adoptive family are interviewed, and while it's clear that they have since come to accept Heidi as one of their own, such may not have initially been the case. Many of their statements seem slightly racist, although they probably don't realize it. As the viewer is shown pictures of how Heidi changed over the years, it is quite apparent that all of her Asian features were de-emphasized with American (and damn ugly, I might add) hairstyles and clothing. On the one hand this is somewhat understandable, given that the town she grew up in is reputedly the "birthplace" of the Ku Klux Klan - not the best place for a "half-gook" to grow up, perhaps. It's quite likely that her Americanized looks and upbringing saved her from plenty of persecution by some of the community's less-tolerant members.

The downside of this, of course, is that she was so completely stripped of her Vietnamese upbringing and culture, that when she finally hops the plane to be reunited with her family, she really has no idea how to relate to them once the tearful reunion at the airport is out of the way. She feels like Vietnam is "another planet", and in a way, she's right.

It's also hard to know what to make of Heidi herself. On the one hand, it's easy to feel sympathy for her and her situation. Having been alienated from her roots and raised in a household that was not overly-affectionate, her unease is certainly understandable. However, her Vietnamese family seems to be completely accepting of her, even her mother's husband who ran off to join the Vietcong (prompting Heidi's mother to take up with an American soldier so that she could afford to feed her family), then returned after the war. They seem to love and accept her unconditionally, and don't see Heidi as "the ugly American". Unfortunately, Heidi rather comes off as one at times.

While I found myself highly sympathetic towards Heidi during some scenes, I also found myself annoyed by her self-centered attitude. Naturally, some culture shock is to be expected, but she could have handled some of the situations a lot better than she did, and made more of an effort to adjust - especially since she was the one who decided to seek her mother out to begin with. She also seemed a bit too hung up on their requests for financial support. Obviously this might be disconcerting at first. Since Heidi is married to a naval man and living in base housing, it's apparent that she doesn't have wads of cash to spare. However, even though they quickly drop their requests once they realize how upset she is and that she didn't understand the Vietnamese tradition, the issue continues to be a stumbling block to her, following a rather strenuous emotional outburst. Whether she is simply too emotionally ill-prepared to deal with the whole situation, or a pampered American who is unwilling to cope, I leave for you to judge. However, one is certainly left with the impression that she could have tried harder.

DAUGHTER FROM DANANG is certainly an eye-opener to the isolation one must feel by being adopted from a different culture - especially under such extreme circumstances as "Operation Babylift". However, while Heidi certainly benefited from a better quality of life in many ways, one is left to wonder how high of a price she has paid by becoming completely alienated from her family and culture.

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originally posted: 04/12/03 03:31:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/02/14 xxxx i left vietnam when i was 6 how come i could remember memories 4 stars
8/07/04 Dana shows westerners put money before love 4 stars
4/27/02 Rylan Higgins One of the most complex and engaging documentary films I've seen to date. 5 stars
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  11-Jan-2002 (NR)
  DVD: 17-Feb-2004



Directed by
  Gail Dolgin
  Vicente Franco

Written by
  Gail Dolgin
  Vicente Franco

  Heidi Bub

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