Political Film Society - Bastards

PFS Film Review


The film Bastards reminds us that while in Vietnam for two decades, many Americans paid Vietnamese women for sex. An estimated 30,000 children were born as a result of these encounters. After the American pullout in 1975, these Amerasian offspring were ostracized within Vietnam, deprived of schooling, gainful employment, and of course a normal family. In the film Three Seasons, we saw one American soldier returning to claim his daughter, but in Bastards the scene is Westminster, California, sometimes known as "Vietnam Town." In 1987, Congress passed the Amerasian Homecoming Act, which provided for the resettlement of these offspring of mixed ancestry as nonquota immigrants with refugee program benefits, but some children had to manage without a father or a mother. The Immigration and Naturalization Service was their parent, providing food stamps, access to welfare benefits, housing, English language instruction, and assistance in locating absent fathers. Director Loc Dos aim is to show us exactly how these Amerasians live; the tagline of the film is "From Saigon, Vietnam, to Little Saigon, California." The film focuses on two brothers who work as busboy and dishwasher in a Vietnamese restaurant. Tony (played by Tuan Tran), plagued by nightmares, not satisfied to be a mere busboy and angry that his father never found him, and with a tattoo on his chest that says "Unloved Young People" in Vietnamese, finds a family within a gang that burglarizes Vietnamese merchants. Tien (played by Christopher Lance) wants to work hard, take care of his troubled brother, and make a good life while spending hours each day telephoning everyone throughout the United States with the name "McCale" in order to locate their father. As the film plays out, we see part-Vietnamese whose fathers were black as well as white, young Amerasian women who try to comfort their boyfriends, and even Vietnamese merchants who show compassion toward the burglars. Those who have been to Vietnam in the last two decades, who have seen Amerasians begging to be discovered by American visitors as their children in front of hotels and at orphanages, will easily be caught up in the emotions of the film. Eventually, Tien finds his father, who comes to visit. Aside from the sensitive portrayal of gang life, the most intriguing part of the film is how Tony at first cannot accept his father but becomes transformed by the end of the film, evidently realizing that he must forgive his father to get beyond the terrible traumas that have governed his life so long. Bastards, which gained some notoriety for special screenings in 1996, was first released to the general public in Los Angeles for a week during June 1999, doubtless to ride the coattails of Three Seasons. As the film ends, screen titles tell us (as of 1995) that of the 30,000 Amerasians, 10,000 are still in Vietnam, and only 300 had succeeded in locating their fathers. MH

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