Sanitized for Your Consumption

Saigon, USA white-washes local history

Frank Jao, the Chinese Vietnamese developer who owns much of Little Saigon's commercial real estate, is also depicted favorably, coming off as almost apolitical despite his ardent support for the Bush administration and the invasion of Iraq. The film makes no reference to the controversy stirred up by Jao's plan to build a "Harmony Bridge" across Bolsa Avenue in Westminster to link two malls he owns. The bridge was scrapped after protesters deemed its design "too Chinese."

Saigon, USA does deserve praise for being the first film to highlight the contributions of Chinese Vietnamese to the community, treating Jao and local artist Vi Ly (from Saigon's Chinatown, Cholon via Cincinnati) like any other Vietnamese. And the film does manage to profile, if fleetingly, Suzie Dong Matsuda, the community activist who organized what she called a "healing" demonstration at Hi Tek, where 15,000 participants made up the largest gathering there. She is most funny when describing Asian drivers as bad and poignant when pointing to a map of bus routes and saying how to take a bus was the first thing immigrants like herself learned at St. Anselm's refugee center in Garden Grove.

But given the continuing turmoil in Little Saigon, most recently over the flying of the flag of the defunct South Vietnam, Saigon, USA gives little historical analysis—or even a serious point of view—to help us understand current events. View it instead as a fleeting, tiny, made-for-TV capsule of local history.

You'd be better off renting or buying the DVD version of Green Dragon (2001), Timothy Linh Bui's far-more-excellent fictional and dramatic look at Little Saigon's origins.

Saigon, USA was directed and produced by Lindsey Jang and robert C. winn. It screens at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film & Video Festival at David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles; www.vconline.org/ff03/index.html. Mon., 7:30 p.m. $7-$9.
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