Off the shore of Palacios town in Texas, each day, sunshine, raining or foggy, many Vietnamese boats went out to catch shrimps. Each boat was taken care of by one person, who acted as pilot, navigator, and fisher.
Above the boat, hundreds seagulls followed, awaiting for rejected sea foods.
Their miserable hardship was once became a movie, "ALAMO BAY" regarding the fight and killing between local American and Vietnamese refugees who escaped their Communist country to come to the USA for freedom.
AFTER the collapse of the United States-backed Government in Saigon in 1975, more than half a million Vietnamese refugees made their way to this country, approximately 100,000 settling in Texas and many of these along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They fished and shrimped and, by being willing to work harder and put in longer hours than the white Texan - or ''Anglo'' - boatmen, they prospered.
Because of the language barrier, the Vietnamese, most of them Roman Catholics, kept to themselves in their own makeshift communities. Initially times were good, but as prices for fish and shrimp fell, competition between the Vietnamese and the Anglos intensified until, in 1979, an undeclared war broke out. It was an ideal situation for the Ku Klux Klan. The next couple of years were marked by firebombings of Vietnamese boats and houses and the destruction of their fish-traps, with the Vietnamese retaliating in kind. There was no denying the urgency of the confrontations when, in 1980, a young Vietnamese shot and killed an Anglo fisherman named Billy Joe Aplin.
To the economically beleaguered Anglos, of lot of whom had fought in Vietnam, the refugees were ''gooks'' and Communists who, according to the Anglo way of seeing things, had been saved by the United States Government - and by American blood - only to be able to take the food out of the mouths of good, solid, native-born patriots. To the Vietnamese, America had become a nightmare of violence and bigotry.
These are the sad, complex, real- life events that serve as the source material for ''Alamo Bay,'' directed by Louis Malle from an original screenplay by Alice Arlen, who, with Nora Ephron, wrote the excellent screenplay for ''Silkwood.'' The film opens today at Loew's New York Twin Theater.
Like many other movies that have their origins in a general idea, which characters and their story, ''Alamo Bay'' is almost shamefully clumsy and superficial - it's manufactured ''art.'' Watching it is an unhappy experience that never becomes illuminating.
Its mediocrity is especially surprising when one realizes that it comes from a director who, in the past, has virtually made a personal style by evoking humane comedy and drama from the most unlikely situations, including incest (''Murmur of the Heart''), child prostitution (''Pretty Baby'') and a couple of white guys sitting around talking (''My Dinner With Andre''). This movie discovers nothing in the real-life events that wouldn't be immediately apparent in the newspaper accounts of what actually happened. It's a rule of literature that second-rate fiction diminishes fact.
That ''Alamo Bay'' is a well-intentioned melodrama can't be denied. It wouldn't have been made otherwise. Mr. Malle and Mrs. Arlen can be certified as concerned citizens. It's also apparent that they appreciate the terrible bind in which both the native Texans and the Vietnamese find themselves. Where they fail is in making something moving and comprehensible of the contradictory impulses within their fictional characters. They try, from time to time, but the essential nastiness of the situation overwhelms them.
At the heart of the film are three potentially interesting people. Glory (Amy Madigan) is a pretty, tough, headstrong young woman who has returned to the small fishing town of Port Alamo to help her ailing father in his shrimp-shipping business.
Shang (Ed Harris), who used to ''spark'' Glory when they were in high school but is now married to a shrew who lives in hair curlers, is a Vietnam vet having trouble meeting the bank loan on his boat. Shang has the manners and mentality of a redneck bigot, but he also has a lot of primitive charm. One is meant to believe, I think, that under any other circumstances he'd be a fairly decent guy, but even before the confrontation with the Vietnamese, he's such a mean-spirited boor it's difficult to see how any woman not bent on self-destruction could stick with him.
Dinh (Ho Nguyen) is a bright, shining-faced, optimistic young Vietnamese refugee, newly arrived in Port Alamo, who goes to work for Glory and, in almost no time, is in a position to purchase his own boat. Dinh is a very rare creature, too good, you might say, to be true or, more important, to be effectively dramatic. He accepts the racial slurs of the Anglo fishermen without expression. His sunny nature eventually wins over the skeptical Glory, who stands by him when the white fishermen declare their war on the ''gooks,'' as he stood by her when the Anglos threatened to close down her business because she dealt with the Vietnamese.
At the same time, Glory's private life has become a mess. She has resumed her affair with Shang, only to have him leave her when she cannot produce the money to save his boat from foreclosure.
Miss Madigan and Mr. Harris (who are married in real life) are good performers, but their characters here are not as complex as they are. There's only one moment in the entire film when it seems as if ''Alamo Bay'' is taking on a life of its own, when we understand that behavior might be growing out of character and not simply imposed on character. This is a sexy, mostly wordless love scene, set in a Port Alamo barroom, when Glory and Shang are dancing together and, what with the music and the body heat, realize simultaneously that each is ready to chuck everything to be able to make love to the other.
That events overtake them is no particular surprise, nor are the events themselves, including the film's bloody climax, which are regularly telegraphed before their arrival. It's unfortunate for a film when its most lifelike character is a smooth- talking Klan organizer. The movie's attempts to give identity to its stereotypes sometimes are ludicrous, as in a scene when Glory and Dinh, having a late-evening drink together in a bar far away from Port Alamo, are trading the stories of their lives.
''What was the worst thing that ever happened to you?'' Glory asks Dinh. He tells her that after the Vietcong attacked his village, murdering almost everybody, he hid for a week in the jungle, where, to stay alive, he was forced to eat grass. Glory is appalled: ''You had to eat GRASS!''
Much like a movie inspired by events and not character, Glory gets the priorities wrong.
(Review by Vincent Canby, printed on The New York Times dated 04/03/1985)
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- Copyright: Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) (8582)
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