The American War in Vietnam remains a lingering wound for both nations a generation later. Between 1959 and 1975, over 5 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans were killed, and approximately 350,000 Americans and millions more Vietnamese were injured. Many on both sides continue to suffer from physical and psychological injuries suffered then that have never fully healed.
Recorded in 1998, Vietnam Long Time Coming documents a historic 1200-mile, 16-day bicycle ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formally, Saigon) by 45 American and 20 Vietnamese riders, many of whom are disabled vets. Organized by the charity World T.E.A.M. Sports, the group of 65 riders, including blind participants riding tandem with able-bodied riders and paraplegics on hand-powered bikes, made the long trek south through Vietnam while engaging in medical and education outreach along the journey.
These outreach efforts provide some of the most touching moments in the documentary. At the dedication of a new orthotics unit at a hospital targeted by American bombers during the war, a former Air Force sergeant responsible for loading munitions on bombers breaks down in grief. At a girls school presentation, a disfigured former U.S. Army rifleman also becomes overwhelmed when recounting his wartime experiences. These scenes are obviously intensely cathartic for the vets, and also powerfully moving to behold.
The film also documents the continuing denial of some of the American participants about the depth of the harm done to them, and the discomfort they and others continue to have at any suggestion of personal or collection American guilt for the war. One vet who lost both legs, claims to grieve more for his thinning hair than his lost limbs. He and others boycott the group visit to the Mei Lei memorial for five hundred villagers massacred by American soldiers for fear that visiting, even thirty years later, would signal some degree of collective American culpability that they believe is unfounded.
Despite some moving and provocative moments, the 120-minute documentary is overly long by half. The last third of the ride and the subsequent trip by a Vietnamese amputee to the United States to be fitted for a prosthesis feels anti-climatic.
This review is based on a screener disc provided by Facets. As such, this description may vary from the specs of the final commercial release.
The disc maintains the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Artifacts and video noise are apparent, but not excessive. Much more disappointing is that the image has not been anamorphically enhanced. Further, the disc merely carries over the forced subtitles from the theatrical release. The option of subtitles for the hearing impaired would have been greatly appreciated, especially given the poor quality of the audio as discussed below.
Surprisingly the disc provides a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix as its only audio option. The audio is mediocre with the voice track under mixed such that some dialogue is unintelligible.
There are no extras on the screener provided by Facets though it appears there should be a where-are-they-now slideshow, additional scenes and production stills on the commercial release.
On the surface, Vietnam Long Time Coming documents a 1200-mile, 16-day bicycle trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by a mixed contingent of American and Vietnamese riders, but at its heart it's the story of a journey toward healing and reconciliation for the participants and their countries. The documentary is at times deeply moving, but the momentum gives out well before the credits roll.