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    Alamo Bay Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Sony Pictures Twilight Time

    Sep 22 2013 01:41 PM | Richard Gallagher in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    The first wave of Vietnamese immigrants to the United States occurred after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Approximately 125,000 South Vietnamese who had close ties with the United States government and/or their own government fled the country, fearing reprisals by the victorious North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. The first group of refugees tended to be skilled and well-educated, but even so polls taken at the time showed that most Americans were opposed to Vietnamese immigration. The second wave of immigration began in 1978 and continued through the mid-eighties. These were the "boat people," approximately two million Vietnamese who fled their country in fishing boats, hoping to find refuge in any country which would have them. Many of them were allowed into the United States and a significant number ended up settling along the Gulf Coast of Texas. It is against this backdrop that Louis Malle's Alamo Bay is set. The film depicts the clash which occurred when an influx of Vietnamese fishermen threatened the livelihood of Texans who had been harvesting shrimp for generations.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Sony
    • Distributed By: Twilight Time
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    • Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)
    • Subtitles: English SDH
    • Rating: R
    • Run Time: 1 Hr. 38 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray, Soundtrack
    • Case Type: Standard Blu-ray Keep Case
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region:
    • Release Date: 09/10/2013
    • MSRP: $29.95

    The Production Rating: 4/5

    The first wave of Vietnamese immigrants to the United States occurred after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Approximately 125,000 South Vietnamese who had close ties with the United States government and/or their own government fled the country, fearing reprisals by the victorious North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. The first group of refugees tended to be skilled and well-educated, but even so polls taken at the time showed that most Americans were opposed to Vietnamese immigration. The second wave of immigration began in 1978 and continued through the mid-eighties. These were the "boat people," approximately two million Vietnamese who fled their country in fishing boats, hoping to find refuge in any country which would have them. Many of them were allowed into the United States and a significant number ended up settling along the Gulf Coast of Texas. It is against this backdrop that Louis Malle's Alamo Bay is set. The film depicts the clash which occurred when an influx of Vietnamese fishermen threatened the livelihood of Texans who had been harvesting shrimp for generations.

    As the film opens Dinh (Ho Nguyen), a new immigrant from Vietnam, is walking and hitchhiking his was to the fictional Gulf Coast town of Port Alamo, Texas, where a number of his countrymen have found work fishing for shrimp. After getting a ride into town he heads out on foot to find the section of town where the Vietnamese live. He stops at a drab trailer park to ask for directions and approaches Shang Pierce (Ed Harris), a down-on-his-luck fisherman who is in danger of having his shrimp boat repossessed. Shang wears a baseball cap which prominently features a Confederate flag and the words "Texas - Best of Dixie." Shang ominously greets Dinh, "You're on my damn lawn. I ought to shoot you." Shang's wife, Honey (Cynthia Carle), points down the street. "They live over there," she declares, "Slop City." Dinh smiles politely and thanks her for the information.

    Shang's marriage to Honey has been turning sour. Honey wants to move away from Port Alamo, but they have three children and no money to speak of. Shang bitterly insinuates that Honey tricked him into marrying her by becoming pregnant. Complicating matters is the fact that Glory (Amy Madigan), the daughter of a local shrimp wholesaler, has returned to town. Shang and Glory were an item in high school, and it quickly becomes apparent that they have not lost interest in one another. Glory's father, Wally (Donald Moffat), does not approve of his daughter consorting with Shang. The situation is not helped by the fact that Wally is happy to do business with the Vietnamese fishermen and he hires Dinh to work on his own boat.

    Shang's financial problems are in part a result of the competition created by the Vietnamese fishermen who have settled in Port Alamo. The white fishermen are constantly griping - with some justification - that the "gooks" are depleting the shrimp population, thereby reducing the amount of shrimp which each boat is able to catch on a daily basis. The Vietnamese fishermen also tend to flaunt the rules, particularly one which prohibits fishing after dark. The situation has gotten so bad that the white fishermen invite a Ku Klux Klan organizer (William Frankfather) to present ideas for ways in which they can get the Vietnamese to leave town (astonishingly, the Ku Klux Klan man tells the fishermen that they should emulate Martin Luther King's use of public relations!). Things come to a head when Shang's fishing boat is repossessed. He does not want to work for someone else, so he starts crabbing with a small boat. One day, while retrieving his traps, he becomes outraged when he discovers that the Vietnamese are also setting crab traps, and he pulls out a rifle and begins shooting at them. He then decides that the Vietnamese must be driven out of Port Alamo.

    Alamo Bay is a disturbing portrait of racism and a clash of cultures. However, the thankfully film avoids most of the usual stereotypes about racists. It is not as if the entire town is opposed to the immigrants - indeed, many of locals acknowledge that the Vietnamese are hard-working, and a number of them try to help to assimilate the newcomers into their surroundings. The irony is that Shang is a Vietnam veteran, as are several of the other fishermen who oppose the Vietnamese. A few years earlier they had been fighting for South Vietnam and now they are calling the immigrants Communists, proving once again that racism is, to one degree or another, always born of ignorance (see, for example, the racists who derided the new Miss America as an "Arab" and "Miss Al-Qaeda").

    Ed Harris turns in a powerful performance as a man who seethes with anger while blaming the immigrants for the failure of his business. The chemistry between Harris and Amy Madigan is palpable, particularly in a steamy scene during which they slow dance at a honky tonk. Their chemistry is not surprising, considering that in real life Harris and Madigan were still relative newlyweds when Alamo Bay was being filmed. Ho Nguyen, who apparently has made only one other film, is appealing as the earnest, ambitious Dinh, who wants only to claim his share of the American dream (Nguyen was cast in the role while he was attending medical school in Houston).

    Director Louis Malle presents the story in a nuanced, balanced manner, ensuring that the viewer understands the frustrations of the Americans even while being appalled at some of their actions. Alamo Bay is beautifully filmed on location in Texas by cinematographer Curtis Clark and includes a haunting, evocative musical score by Ry Cooder. This outstanding Blu-ray from Twilight Time is limited to 3,000 copies, so those who are interested in purchasing it should go to the Screen Archives website to confirm that it is still available. It also can be ordered through Amazon.

    Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA

    The 1.85:1 1080p image is delivered via the AVC codec, and it is outstanding in every respect. It is consistently sharp and detailed, with solid black levels, excellent contrast and fine shadow detail. The exteriors were filmed on location in Port Lavaca, Texas and Rockport, Texas, which gives the film a strong sense of authenticity. Colors are solid and accurate, although in general this is not what one would call a colorful film.

    Audio Rating: 3.5/5

    The 1.0 DTS HD-MA mono soundtrack faithfully reproduces the audio as Alamo Bay was released in theaters. The sound is crisp and clear, and Ry Cooder's score is free of distortion and sounds as good as possible given the inherent limitations of the original recording. Cooder has had a long and distinguished career as a guitarist and composer.

    Special Features: 2.5/5

    The extras on this Blu-ray disc are limited to the original theatrical trailer and the isolated score track. The trailer is in good shape and accurately reflects the essence of the film.

    An eight-page illustrated booklet with an incisive and informative essay by film historian Julie Kirgo also is included.

    Overall Rating: 4/5


    Alamo Bay is based upon true events and is an unflinching look at an economic and cultural conflict between Americans and immigrants from Asia. While the film does not paint a pretty picture, in the ensuing years relations between the Vietnamese immigrants and Texans have improved. By 2000 the San Antonio Express-News was reporting that along the Gulf Coast "relations are healthy between the Vietnamese and the rest of the community," so in that respect one can find reason for optimism in Alamo Bay.

    Twilight Time has released another excellent Blu-ray, and it is highly recommended for those who are interested in a significant but largely forgotten incident in our recent history.

    Reviewed by: Richard Gallagher
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