This is a semi-autobiographical story of Tina, a Vietnamese woman who seeks freedom in America during the first wave of the "boat people" exodus. During a horrendous month - long journey ... See full summary »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Tina Vu ...
Tina Lee
Anthony Tran ...
Anthony Long
Chris Bentz ...
Robert Aldridge
Lisa (as Tamara Haasan)
Lazar Rockwood ...
Srdjan Nikolic ...
Wendy Stevens
Italo Servello ...
Johnny Ianni
Rob Fidler ...
Howard Ho ...
Mr. Long
Millie Ho ...
Mrs. Long
Val Eren ...
Amir Kendic ...


This is a semi-autobiographical story of Tina, a Vietnamese woman who seeks freedom in America during the first wave of the "boat people" exodus. During a horrendous month - long journey from Vietnam to Hong Kong in a small, flimsy boat, Tina, her husband and their 6 month old child had to endure tremendous hardships. Their craft, loaded down with 40 refugees, was attacked twice by pirates, who took all their money and belongings. They also managed to survive a violent storm which almost destroyed their craft. Their 6 month old son was not so lucky, however, and died of exposure. Penniless, and devastated by the loss of her son, she makes her way to the west coast of Canada, where she realizes that the "American Dream" is not at all what's it's made out to be. What happens when the American dream turns into a nightmare? Written by Anonymous

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What happens when the American dream turns into a nightmare...





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9 May 2005 (Canada)  »

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CAD 100,000 (estimated)

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a bio pic from the streets
14 July 2007 | by (Toronto, Ontario) – See all my reviews

"It is hard to have sympathy for someone with such a strong will and temperament," so says the lawyer of Tina Vu. This makes her less the ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances movies require in a lead, and that may be why so many supporting players are stealing scenes in Tough Love. "The title of this movie is very appropriate, because that is what the star and financier Tina Vu is in dire need of." That would be the stock witticism of a thousand reviews if this movie had a national release. But on video, absent of the restless zeitgeist of an audience, the movie plays much better and the episodes, interviews and interrogations more clearly add up to a nightmare deconstruction of the woman choosing her career over family. At least that is my own bourgeois interpretation.

The film opens confidently establishing a shady nightclub and a stylized elevator descent. The murder of mob figure Peter (convincing and understated Italo Servello) is well handled and the movie is promising a genre sort of world that it abandons to a non-linear drama. In fairness, the movie starts out noting that this is based on a true story. Few movies based on true stories lay out naturally like a movie.

There are filmed events that culminate in a trial and there is a resolution, but the stakes are clouded inasmuch as the movie is bound to much of the official account and the false conceit that this paradigm will carry the audience along.

One of the "boat people" from news of the 1980's ended up raising a family in Canada and gradually abandoned them in favor of the nightlife and a lucrative position in the growing ecstasy industry. Vu's choice to leave the kids and her long-suffering husband immediately poisons me as a viewer against her. The movie wants to be about Woman versus Society when it should have been Woman Versus Herself.

The main character's arc is completed off camera, whether she had much of a choice in it or not. The main body of the film appears to be about narcissism. Either she got over it and is responsible for Love Kids Foundation which builds homes for kids in Vietnam, or she does that good work while exorcising her narcissism through movies. If we feel for anything here it is through the supporting roles.

Tamara Haasan in her very first starring role as Lisa lets us in and is constantly conveying information. Haasan resembles a young Nancy Allen minus the running and screaming of the De Palma years and even though she is in effect the devil that draws Vu into her circle of shady business we connect more to her than the stoic screen version of Ms Vu. And there were some fascinating performances by the "Serb" mobsters (Lazar Rockwood and Serge Nikolic).

The more weathered faces on screen have a natural presence whether they be actors or merely playing themselves to a degree and they project authority. Tony Tran comes across very well, though his wife who does a serviceable job as herself. To a non-English audience, her performance may be fine. But what may have been a witty line from time to time is handicapped by the middle ground of broken English. Had she spoken Mandarin or Vietnamese the entire movie, and had misunderstandings with English-only authorities, and had it taken place in the 80's or had she come over in a different set of boats during a more current immigration crisis, there might be more tension or Aristotelian unity of time, place and conflict.

The best true stories focus on one event: Apollo 13, World trade Centre for example. Had she turned out to be the inventor of e, or the founder of Big Sisters then her journey would be more topical. Had she been a known figure, each scene might have had a backhanded Quantum Leap kiss with history to it as a survivor walks through confrontations that we know they have already overcome.

But there is no getting over the core emotional indifference the audience must feel, except for the scene where she rushes out of bed to confront someone dealing on her turf and there is a bit of a gun standoff. At least then there is a crisis.

Where there are no dramatic beats and should be, post production goes for a freeze-frame and ka-thump music more to break up the scenes into chunks than to emphasize a dramatic turn. This does work the first four or five times, and then appears to parody itself. The digital images hold up and express realism, despite the strongest aspects of the movie being those that bring to mind genre scenarios. The scenes are well covered by director Frank Caruso and his team, except for an exterior car chase in the snow in which realism works against contributing tension to a sequence.

More intimate scenes are better served by the approach. There were some axis crossing issues in a three-way interview, but I didn't consciously notice it the first time around so my interest must have been held. The axis crossing may have been a deliberate agitation to convey Vu's mindset in the scene. There is a laid back mood presented by mobsters in power, including the director Caruso himself which is at once detached and welcoming. It should also be noted that when I watched the movie again it was in several sittings. Taken scene for scene you can appreciate the sum of its parts.

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