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Writer and director of Green Dragon Timothy Linh Bui

Jim Russell Interviews Timothy Linh Bui
By Jim Russell
June 8, 2002

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Writer-Director Timothy Linh Bui helped open the festivities at the 5th Aurora Asian Film Festival on Thursday, May 30th at the Aurora Fox Arts Center. Timothy introduced his film Green Dragon, which marks his directorial debut following co-writing and co-producing credits on the critically acclaimed Three Seasons, directed by his brother, Tony. AsiaXpress.com Correspondent-at-Large Jim Russell, Afternoon Host of CD 104.3, spoke with Bui about the new film.

JR: How did the experience of co-writing and co-producing the movie Three Seasons, a look at contemporary life in Vietnam, prepare you for directing Green Dragon, which is set in the past, and on U.S. soil?

TB: I think both films are very personal films in their own way, and after Three Seasons, my brother and I said that before we move on to make any other film, we felt that this film, Green Dragon, was an important story to tell, because it was the journey that our family took to come to this country. As a kid we would hear many stories of our parents, and especially my mother, telling of her first few days and weeks in America -- especially how she feared the moonlight because it brought her a lot of pain and sorrow. And as a kid, we didn't really understand what she meant. It became important to understand what she meant, to be sat down and talked to as a big inspiration for the film.

JR: You have some wonderful images in the film that are bathed in moonlight, some quiet and desolate nights at the camp.

TB: Yeah, a lot of that. I remember one story that she mentioned was the man with the buddhist gong. While she was staying there, she would always hear this subtle gong of this man who was always hitting the gong in his prayers at night, and then how one day, it just stopped, and what that meant for her. I thought that was a kind of very powerful thing and I used that as a symbolism in the film.

JR: Even though Green Dragon takes place at the end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the film is really an examination of the beginning of an American odyssey for so many thousands of Vietnamese.

TB: Exactly. That's exactly what it is. When I was making the film, there's two things to it, I always tell people: there's the chapter that begins with the end. It talks about the end of the war, the end of America's involvement. Then also it begins the journey of the first wave of Vietnamese coming into America. Our family w[as among those in] the first wave, and the irony is how we were ready in America, and still waiting to GO to America, still waiting for the sponsorship to come out [of the camp], not really seeing what was on the other side and all the fears and the desperation of what's over the mountains [surrounding the camp] were on all our minds. And I think in a way it symbolizes all immigrants, not just the Vietnamese, but all immigrants who come here from whatever country they happen to come from, and all the fears and anticipation that lies ahead. At that time, Camp Pendleton was in a way actually like the Ellis Island of the '70's. [Such an] influx of Vietnamese refugees came through there and began their first leg into the new country as Americans.

JR: Well, although we know what may have awaited the refugees beyond the walls of Camp Pendleton and can easily imagine what America was like in 1975, you've chosen not to depict that on screen. As someone who wore both hats as writer and director, can you tell us, was that a decision made at the writing stage or was it a directorial decision?

TB: It was more of a writing decision. You know, I felt as I was writing it, it came to a point to where I could have said "take [the action] out[side the camp]", especially where Tai's character was to go into America, to kind of see America, then come back and give the people hope, the news of hope that it's okay, we can make it and there's nothing to be afraid of to leave this place. I just felt that it was so much more interesting to keep it all in the confined space. Because, as an audience, we all know it, but hopefully the [audience will] be able to lose themselves within the story and the confinement of the mountains and Camp Pendleton to where we're hearing America kind of for the first time being described to us. And that's more what I was trying to achieve. Instead of taking us out to see something that we've already seen or know, let us hear it for the first time as if we were locked up in this place for three months and had never seen what America really looks like. continue >

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