Oh, Saigon on PBS World

Oh, Saigon on PBS World

Tue, 04/27/2010 - 6:00pm - 7:00pm

The Hoang family in Vietnam before the end of the war, when they fled Vietnam and divided.

Credit: Courtesy Doan Hoang

Filmmaker, Doan Hoang, explores her family’s story, separated as they were helicoptered out of Saigon on the last day of the Vietnam War.

“If I could put my finger on the moment my family fell apart, it would be April 30, 1975 — the end of the Vietnam War.”
– Filmmaker Doan Hoang

OH, SAIGON encores Tuesday, April 27 at 6 p.m. on PBS World (cable 524/DT21.2). It is the story of a family torn apart by the Vietnam War and their subsequent attempt to reconcile after decades of separation and political division. In 2000, filmmaker and narrator Doan Hoang sought to investigate her family’s dysfunction and began filming in America and Vietnam. She and her family were airlifted out of Saigon on the last civilian helicopter to leave the city on the last day of the Vietnam War. Her sister Van was left behind in the chaos.

Doan’s father Nam was a South Vietnamese major and pilot, his younger brother Dzung deserted the southern army and their older brother Hai was a communist who fought against his brothers. Nam now lives in a quiet suburban Kentucky home. Hai, Doan’s older uncle, lives in bustling, urban Ho Chi Minh City and expresses fiery disapproval of Nam’s fighting for the “wrong” government and for abandoning Vietnam. Dzung, the youngest brother, is a happy-go-lucky but impoverished fisherman living on the South China Sea beach. Dzung was a sergeant for the Army of the Republic of (South) Vietnam (ARVN). He shot himself in the hand so he could quit fighting and be with his family. The three brothers represent a spectrum of different political beliefs and choices. Their choices affected their futures and their families.

OH, SAIGON also illustrates how the war affected not only soldiers and governments, but women and children as well. In the chaos of the fall of Saigon, Doan’s family became separated from her sister Van. Leaving her behind, they fled to America. Van endured imprisonment in Vietnam and a harrowing escape by boat before a bittersweet reunion with her family six years later. Currently living in the Vietnamese community of Westminster, California, Van is a pop singer. She’s outwardly upbeat, but still harbors feelings of sadness and angry resentment toward her family for leaving her. Doan and Van’s mother, Suong, blames Van for what happened to her. Once a well-off Saigon socialite, Suong now works as a seamstress serving customers in Kentucky.

Doan’s emotional reunion with her sister ultimately leads her to take her family back to Vietnam for the first time in 30 years for a long-awaited homecoming in the new Saigon.

The main narrator of OH, SAIGON , Doan, is the connecting link to all the key characters. She reveals her thoughts and shows viewers how her relatives have been emotionally, physically and economically wounded by the war. Because of Doan’s closeness with her family, viewers are given intimate access to the film’s subjects, who tell Doan — and therefore the viewers — their own stories in their own words, allowing viewers to see each person’s choices and situations as they themselves interpreted them. Thus, the characters’ raw, natural emotions and reactions to events are captured in the film. Each person is shown empathetically, making the conflict between the subjects, who are all related by blood, all the more poignant.

This film explores the themes of home, identity, personal choice, patriotism, exile, war, loss and the love within families that, while difficult at times, spans political and national divides. OH, SAIGON also deals with the struggle of displacement and the difficulties of maintaining a family dynamic while settling in a new country.

In seeking to resolve the obvious schism in her family, Doan has created a documentary account that reveals the humanity of soldiers, wives, children, prisoners, revolutionaries and refugees. The war’s deep and lasting ramifications separated this family and many others into two worlds: the cold, “free” and affluent United States and the colorful, communist and poverty-stricken Vietnam. Their lives demonstrate the consequences of split-second choices and how a war lives on inside people long after the fighting stops.